Edit desk: Branching out


As I was sipping my coffee before my first session as an orientation leader, I began to think about what I wish I had known coming into my first year here at Lehigh. What do I wish someone had told me? What could I tell my first-year students that could improve their transition or even change their experience? I thought and thought and then it hit me: Branch out.

It seems so obvious, a kind of redundant piece of advice given to everyone no matter his or her age or stage in life. You arrive to college and you hear a rush of information, in one ear and out the other. Make new friends. Try new things. Participate in class. Be yourself! All of these do ring true as ways to optimize your time in college, but the one that always hits me the hardest is to branch out.


Emily May, B&W Staff

College is your time to start over, to reinvent yourself, or maybe just to improve upon what you already love about yourself and your life. You move into your dorm, befriend your roommate and hall mates, go to classes and then you’re set — you have a routine.

But what I want to tell you, what it’s taken me two years and becoming an orientation leader to truly learn and embody, is to branch out. Branch out of your routine because that’s when you really push yourself and become that person you’ve always wanted to be.

One of the best feelings I’ve had at Lehigh is walking anywhere on campus and seeing a familiar face. We smile, wave, say hi and maybe even have a quick catch-up on our way to class. Maybe we met when we joined a club on a whim, or maybe we sat together during lunch, but however the friendship blossomed, our actions brought us together. It made the school of more than 5,000 undergraduates feel like a close-knit community. It made it feel like home.

I came to Lehigh as a freshman, and like many, knew very few people. The first few nights in the dorm, my roommates and I got to know each other. We bonded over our love for ice cream and laughed as we shared stories from the summer. Then we met our hallmates, other girls who I had never seen before. We all came from different backgrounds, many from the East Coast, some from the Midwest and farther. We were all a little hesitant though. Who are these girls? Am I going to be sharing a bathroom with them all year? Our Gryphon led us in a few icebreaker activities throughout our first week and the rest is history. Some of them are still my best friends today.

As an orientation leader this past fall, I had the incredible opportunity to work alongside other students to help transition the incoming class into life at Lehigh. I have to admit, I was nervous. How could I not be? We, a group of students who didn’t know each other, had the job of teaching the first-year students everything they needed to know before they went off on their own. We may have known some of each other’s names or recognized familiar faces, but that was about it. That changed quickly.

On the first day of our weeklong training, I was told to leave my “cool baggage” at the door. Huh? My leader smiled. Branch out, she said, and she was right. Throughout our time together, I smiled, laughed and danced more than I ever had at Lehigh. I grew close with students who I’d never known prior to the experience. We shared stories, jokes and supported each other through the ups and downs. We bonded. Now, who would’ve thought? All of these students from different years, backgrounds, everything, would become my family.

The experience as an orientation leader ingrained the importance of branching out in my mind even more. I kept thinking, as I led a group of hesitant students, what might they want to know? How can I help them make the most of their time here at Lehigh? Branching out was exactly what came to mind. It didn’t happen overnight for me. It was gradual and sometimes uncomfortable, but worth it entirely. Now I’m proud when I walk through campus and see a familiar face, someone who I can share a meaningful conversation, someone who makes me smile. It’s a beautiful feeling, when this large and sometimes intimidating campus feels like home and the students, like family.

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