Today is freshman orientation day. At Pitt, the freshmen live in tall cannisters called "The Towers," where, much like on The Wire, thousands of people cram into pie-shaped rooms and smoke drugs. While moms push bright yellow carts brimming with socks and microwaves, students stand around looking mortified and wishing they could just leave their parents behind and get wasted already. There are about 4 elevators to haul 8,000 people up and down 30+ floors. Tempers flare.
Among all this madness, the marching band is playing fight songs and the cheerleaders are doing a little show. (They've already had a few outfit changes to show off the gold and navy pompons)
When grad students arrive at Pitt, the university is much more sensible in dealing with all this life-change stress. We get no marching band or scantily-clad welcome committee. We get three Fridays in a row of free, unlimited booze and food. No clue what your thesis will be about? Who cares! Have another Pilsner! They don't cost nuthin. Have you tried the cheese platter? It goes great with the wings.
I believe these three weeks of department-sponsored bounty are training for future scavenging missions in the Student Union. Perhaps I learned my hunter/gatherer skills last year while I staggered around the inflatable football helmet laughing at the new freshmen who wished they were drunk like me.
This year, there is no orientation for me. No fanfare or complementary fruit salad purchased with my student activity fee. I am a mere second-year grad student, an aged model of last year's spongelike academia newbie.
HOWEVER! Today, with Hey Baby blaring in through the open window, I oriented my replacement for my gig with Dr. N. This funded graduate student is leaving the gerontology department (!!!) for an assistantship more in line with my educational goals...one that doesn't require me to provide metaphors explaining the difference between a Microsoft Word file and a folder. For five hours this afternoon, I guided another bright woman with a Master's Degree through the fine art of email opening and double-clicking lessons. I showed this new girl exactly how many times she would have to rename files saved as "Dear Dr. P."
If I were a cheerleader, I would have done costume changes. I would have worn red to talk about printing Excel charts five times, each sorted by a different category, on the same piece of paper. I would have worn blue to talk about alphabetizing filing cabinets and then black to discuss mourning the notion that the research position was not actually you teaching computer class.
In real life, I ended the orientation session with a little dance while the band played Brown Eyed Girl. I tossed my office-key-pompon and met the other bitter grad students at the Squirrel Cage, where beers are a dollar. Best damn orientation of my life.