To be an orientation leader

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I remember experiencing my freshman year orientation vividly. I was scared, anxious and tired. I went through the weekend with quiet anxiety. I remember confiding in my orientation leader (OL) about how nervous I was feeling, and was provided with comfort and support, and from there I knew I wanted to be an orientation leader. I knew I was not the only incoming student that was scared and nervous about their transition to college, and if I could provide the comfort and support I was given to others, I would. 

Walking into a room of around 60 other orientation leaders I did not know at all for training, aside from familiar faces I had seen around Seegers Union, was overwhelming and nearly deterred me. But it was not knowing nearly anyone in that room that let me see the magic in the orientation program. I walked into it not knowing any of the other orientation leaders, and walked away from those ten days we spent together having met my current best friend and roommate and the people I now consider my closest friends that I share my deepest secrets with. 

Going into orientation with the hopes of providing the incoming students with a sense of belonging and community at Muhlenberg, I never would have imagined that it would provide me with a sense of community I had not yet experienced at college. While some of my most gratifying and memorable moments being an orientation leader revolved around my group of students, the best memories I have from being an orientation leader come from just hanging out with the other OL’s I didn’t even know before that week, and bonding over our experiences with our students. 

During orientation training, there is a fair amount of team bonding that takes place, and whether it was introducing the concept of a friend crush, going up to someone that you didn’t really know to give them a compliment, or writing people notes whenever you felt inspired by them, there was a community made among the orientation leaders that was derived based on kindness, compassion and inspiration. 

Much of the bonding took place during actual orientation weekend, where OLs provided each other with the support we all were unaware we would even need. When I was having a rough time, or someone was having difficulty feeling like they were doing a good job, there was another orientation leader at every corner to let us know that we are never alone, and we have numerous shoulders to lean on. 

As someone who is more introverted and a quieter presence in large spaces, it is easy to feel as though I go unnoticed. Tack on having a name that many people find difficult to pronounce, and it can feel impossible to walk into a room thinking you’re going to make friends, and much less, an impact.

This did not hold true to being in a room filled with orientation leaders. I had walked away from that experience with a phenomenon I was not familiar with in my life: people knew my name, and how to pronounce it – correctly. To anyone else, this seems like a small feat, but to me, it made me feel like I genuinely belonged in the space I was taking up—A feeling previously foreign to me for the majority of my life. 

The experience the orientation program can provide orientation leaders is transformative. Not only does it provide students with an outlet and opportunity to help and aid incoming students in a smooth college transition, but it also provides orientation leaders and existing students with community, bonds and friendships that they would not have otherwise experienced, all while undergoing personal growth as leaders with the help of people they did not know ten days prior. It is an experience that has been described as life changing, magical and empowering. And it is an experience that I could not have been more grateful to have. 

I am not the only orientation leader who feels grateful for their experience, Maya Brooks ‘24 said, “The most rewarding part of orientation for me by far is the connections I make with the other OLs. As much as I like helping the first-years, the bonds that I make with other OLs during our week of training have been some of the most long lasting relationships I’ve had in college.”

“OLs keep coming back despite the lack of pay because it is such a rewarding position. I genuinely think I would pay to be an orientation leader if it came to it because it is my favorite thing at this school. From the friendships to the leadership experience to the confidence all OLs walk away from the program with, it is no mystery to me why people keep coming back,” she continued. 

Brooks went on to express, “Orientation means so much to me. I believe it is one of the only organizations on campus where the qualifying factor to be part of this program is being a kind, patient person who wants to give back. Because of that, every year I leave orientation with new friends that remain in my life after it ends.”

Dylan De Magistris ‘24, who was an orientation leader and then an orientation team leader for two years stated, “I wanted to become an orientation leader to give back an experience to the incoming first years that I never received when I was a freshman because of COVID.”

“The most rewarding part is seeing everyone find their sense of belonging in our community and gain the self confidence to put themselves out there. As much as it would be nice for OLs to get paid, that’s not the reason we do what we do. OLs continually come back to the program because we are positively influencing the lives of others. This includes the first-years, the other OLs and ourselves. Orientation provides us an experience to be self reflective to become the best version of ourselves. Being in a group of likeminded people striving towards the same goal is a powerful and fun experience.” 

“Orientation means so much to me as it has really shaped my college experience. Many of my closest friends and faculty relationships I have met through orientation. As for being an OL, it means being compassionate and flexible,” he continued.

Nicole Tahmoosh ‘24, who was an orientation leader for two years and an orientation team leader this past year shared, “The most rewarding part of orientation for me is the growth it encourages for me as an individual and the growth it encourages on a community level. Orientation has pushed me out of my comfort zone over and over again and through that I have become a more compassionate leader, friend, and member of the Muhlenberg community. Seeing how the growth of orientation leaders including myself broadens the impact they have on first-year students is endlessly rewarding and continues to make change on Muhlenberg’s campus. 

“Being an orientation leader is my favorite thing that I’ve done during my time at Muhlenberg. From starting as a scared and shy orientation leader sophomore year to ending as an orientation team leader my senior year– the orientation program has shaped me into the leader and person I am today. The friendships and experiences I have gained through orientation are ones that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am so thankful for a program that encourages so much love, growth and inclusion and in turn that has helped me find myself,” continued Tahmoosh. 

Anna Hanley ‘25, who has been an orientation leader for two years, said, “One of the most special parts of orientation is the relationships that form between all the OLs. Don’t get me wrong, I love actual orientation weekend and meeting my group, but orientation would not be what it is without the people. I walked into my first day of training last year terrified because I had no idea who anyone was and I was so scared that I was not going to talk to anybody. I cannot stress how wrong I was. Every year, orientation is made up of the most caring, thoughtful and open students on campus. I went in barely talking and was scared to then leave with 60+ people that I considered to be friends with. These strangers turned into my biggest supporters, role models, friends and I even met my roommate.”

“It means, to not put it lightly, my entire college experience. I really am not the same person I was before I became an orientation leader. It gave me a space to feel like I belonged on campus. It also gave me the confidence to apply and take on other roles on campus. Being an Orientation Leader, to be completely honest, changed my life at Muhlenberg.”

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