Twelve first-years. Twelve! While staff training week taught me how to handle pretty much every conceivable conflict I might encounter as a student adviser, or S.A., it left out that little part about any potential pandemonium that could arise when 12 nervous first-years begin their Grinnell experience on Read Second. Suddenly, my self-doubt about being an S.A. rose. My welcoming presence would play a key role in getting the college career of my first-years off to an acceptable start and convincing parents that leaving their kids in Iowa wasn’t such a bad idea.
Thus, I decided the success of move-in day would depend primarily on whether I could keep myself from looking like a complete idiot. It began awkwardly. Rolling out of bed at 9:30 a.m. for my 10 a.m. shift, I half-heartedly grabbed a towel and walked shirtless across the hall toward the bathroom, only to be eyed uncomfortably by a parent and sarcastically asked by more-awake staff members already on duty, “Hey Mark, have you met any of your first-years yet?” I was off to a stellar start.
Looking vaguely respectable, I began greeting first-years and unloading SUVs. Being self-conscious, I found this both exciting and potentially dangerous. One must establish an initial friendship and learn cool things about the other person, even though periods of Facebook stalking have already revealed many of the desired answers.
Besides, appearing and acting friendly meant people might not pass judgment at my moderately creepy door decorations. While a lot of S.A.s play it safe by putting stupid laws or Samuel L. Jackson movie posters by their first years’ names, I went all out with phallic buildings as my floor theme. Because nothing reassures nervous students and parents more than pictures of buildings that look like private parts affixed to every door in the hall. Well, maybe just the students were reassured.
I still needed something to convince myself that I could actually succeed at this S.A. job. Everyone seemed nice, but were they having fun? Did they like me? I finally got an indication during that afternoon’s floor meeting, with the help of one of my better ideas in recent memory. My vehement disdain for icebreakers of any sort forced me to rack my brain for something fun that could be done within the confines of the Read Second hallway. My solution? Wheelie chair races.
With Europe’s “Final Countdown” blaring from my room and boxes scattered across the floor as obstacles, I divided my first-years into teams of four, forced them to learn the names of everyone on their team, and began the extravaganza. Much to my relief, they seemed to be having fun. Apparently, crashing into one’s fellow floormates in a wheelie chair is just as enjoyable as I thought.
After that, any nerves about floor difficulty subsided. All 12 of them went to dinner together, and ended up hanging out on the floor for much of the night. The next day, group volleyball again brought everyone together.
There, I received one final indication that I wasn’t going to fail miserably as an S.A. when I got smacked in the face by a particularly powerful spike. It was embarrassing, but reassuring nonetheless. The subsequent laughter and my failed quest for revenge made me realize that maybe 12 first-years wouldn’t create the chaotic scenes I had envisioned, and that my S.A. experience wouldn’t be so nerve-racking after all.
Mark Japinga '09 is undeclared and from Holland, Michigan.