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My gals and I went down to Florida two weeks ago to escape cloudy New Jersey. These were all friends that I had made on Community Action, the pre-orientation program that, along with Outdoor Action, is designed to help freshmen transition more easily into their first year. We were a part of the Arts team which stayed in Trenton, and in our group we’d had painters, writers, musicians, singers and dancers, among others. It was quite the collection, and an eclectic one at that.

Sometimes I am surprised that we still remain so close this far into the school year —close enough to band together, fly out together, beach bum together, cook together and eat ice cream togetheron balconies nearing midnight. I am not the only one. Several times we would muse and laugh together about our joint summer escapades —remember X on CA? Remember when Y did this or that? I’ve been told that “first semester friends often don’t last.” I personally was afraid that academic and extracurricular interests would begin to dictate my friendships during the school year. So we were all surprised and happy that this spring break trip, which we had been planning for a while, had actually happened.

It was funny because our vacation reminded us of what we had done on Community Action (except without the community action, of course.) During our Florida stay, most of us filled out the CA leader application. Collectively we were annoyed at the question which asked “What do you hope to gain?” (“We don’t hope to gain anything, really. Smiles on the freshmen’s faces?”) Collectively we compared our answers to the “Why do you want to be a CA leader?” question, afraid that ours would all be too similar. “We loved CA,” was our consensus, “And we want other freshmen to have a positive transition, too.”

In preemptive response to any sort of proposals to make pre-orientation mandatory, I believe that this move would completely annihilate the optional and flexible nature of such programs, which would in turn harm the purpose of CA and OA as voluntary opportunities for students to meet their peers. From a leadership standpoint, this would also be dangerous. While both OA and CA programs would suffer, I —and my friends —personally fear the worst for CA. It might be a generalization; it might even be a slippery slope. Regardless, OA has earned a fearsome reputation among incoming classes, with stories of no showers (and nightly rains in their stead.) This deterrent could cause overflow freshmen —freshmen who wanted to do neither OA nor CA —to flood the latter. “I sure as heck don’t want (extra) disengaged frosh,” my friend shared with me gloomily.

In the class of 2018, 706 students participated in OA and 170 students participated in CA out of a class of 1314. These applications were accepted on a first come-first serve basis, and there were also students who ended up doing neither. Making OA/CA mandatory would affect both programs in a negative way by bringing in students who possibly do not want to be involved so early. However, I believe that mandatory pre-orientation would be more concerning for CA. Community Action is a week full of community service. Service is something that is inherently optional and cannot be forced upon volunteers. Even with the Outdoor Action program —which does not involve service —as a buffer, Community Action is likely to become a very different program than the one my friends and I participated in.

Another of our friends, who had done OA, happened to be in the Fort Myers area this spring break, and she stopped by one day to picnic with us. We talked about our pre-orientation experiences and she said that she still hung out regularly with a couple of girls from her group. As we sat and ate our homemade burgers and salad, commending our leaders on their doing this very same kind of cooking for us —for a whole week —we all understood that there was a special connection that held us together. Something, also, had held our friend to the OA friends she still spent time with. There was the important undertone that all of us had done this willingly, we selected certain interests and consciously threw ourselves together and hoped for the best. I know that I, for one, am now blessed to have some of my best friends in the world.

Lavinia Liang is a freshman from Poughkeepsie, NY. She can be reached at lavinial@princeton.edu.

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