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October 5, 2012

First-year first impressions

An observant fourth-year reflects on the newcomers during his final O-Week.

As O-Week stumbled drunkenly to a close, a first-year class of over 1,500 tossed aside shutter shades and rage tanks in favor of thick-rimmed glasses and button-downs. They put down a beer soaked O-Book and picked up a copy of The Marx-Engels Reader. They logged into Chalk for the first time, only to have their hangovers twinge at the amount of pages they had to read for Monday. They prepared to become one of us.

For the next four years, these students will look back fondly on their first week of college. And, speaking as a fourth-year who was around for O-Week 2012, that’s exactly what it looked like: a first week of college. But it did not look like a first week of UChicago; I heard very little self-deprecation, spoke with plenty of socially adept students, saw fun happening on a Penn State level, and it was warm outside to boot. So, as each member of this class becomes one of us, what happens to “us”?

We change. And, personally, I think that it’ll be a change for the better. But for legal reasons, including [REDACTED], the mishap with [REDACTED], and that one time with Dean Boyer’s cat, I’m not allowed to speak on behalf of my class, this school, or any incorporated part of Cook County. All I can do is provide you with my reflections on O-Week and on the Class of 2016, and leave you to come to your own conclusions.

For one, the Class of 2016 is big. Not fat, not pregnant, not a movie about a boy who wishes to become an adult, but big in pretty much every other way. At over 1,500 students, they give the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing’s promise of “guaranteed housing” a run for its money. With each first-year in a Hum class capped at 19 students, there will be over eighty separate Hum classes this year. That’s the whole southeast corner of the Quad! (Probably!) They also have big personalities, but not in a “That Kid” sort of way. From election-inspired political debates to enthusiastic cheering for (or, sadly, against) the Bears, this class showed itself to have enormous personality. They’re also tall, which is an odd thing to mention but an even odder thing to observe. Visibility across the Quad will be reduced by 30 percent at a minimum—45 percent in the winter when everyone starts to wear puffy hats.

Oh, and they’re loud. Or rather, ahem, THEY’RE LOUD. At night, particularly (maybe there is a causal relationship between bigness and loudness; the statistical analysis has yet to render—damn you SPSS!) I spent a lot of O-Week evenings in my dorm, where noise levels weren’t too bad. But as soon as I stepped outside, I could hear people yelling, music blaring, and large groups conversing loudly. It was as if people weren’t afraid of being outside at night! Maybe this fearlessness of Hyde Park Nights was even inspired by Danielle Allen’s article on political friendship in the Orientation Reader, which I’m sure you remember discussing (or hearing discussed around you) during your Chicago Life Meetings. More likely, however, this vibrant after-hours culture was being enjoyed in place of reading the Orientation Reader. I wonder how Danielle Allen would feel about that.

Also, they’re still uncommon. As of this year, for the first time in history, the entire student body applied via the Common App. The U of C is now a more selective school, but a less self-selective school. But don’t worry: This class is in every way as quirky and interesting and unique as past classes. Their uncommonness manifests itself in diverse interests and varied viewpoints, as opposed to the booger-picking weirdness that many upperclassmen (wrongfully!) describe this school as having. During O-Week I met a kid who had an encyclopedic knowledge of both Chicago architecture and Chinese political leaders, and I met two different synesthetes with two different types of synesthesia. There are sons and daughters of celebrities, as well as a few students who became celebrities themselves through their behavior on the Class of 2016 Facebook group. These first-years bring both their bigness and their loudness to bear on their uncommonness.

Of course, there’s much more to say about the incoming class, and they’ll change and assimilate so much in the first few weeks of classes that everything I just wrote might be invalid by Thanksgiving. For now, at least we’re all acquainted. The first-years prospied and visited and read a bit about the student body before deciding to come here, and you just finished reading a piece about them written by a guy who’s known them for all of seven days. Since we all know one another equally well—that is, not well at all—here’s to watching the metamorphosis of “us” and still not really knowing what to expect. Cheers.

Matt Walsh is a fourth-year in the College majoring in economics and political science.

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