I can still remember the sticky August heat of my freshman move-in day. With my heart pounding like a fire truck siren, I arrived on campus, two overflowing suitcases and a pile of boxes crammed into the car. An electric energy hummed in the air as cars packed small parking lots and families milled like ants across campus.
I checked in at the gymnasium, to the faint and unwelcoming scents of rubber and sweat in the air. After receiving my freshman essentials: room key, orientation information, obligatory “Messiah College” t-shirt and a mini mountain of forms, I left to find my dorm. I had never been more overwhelmed.
I was in Naugle Residence, 2nd floor. I couldn’t even pronounce the name of my new home. When I pulled up to my dorm, a blonde in a baseball cap wearing a “Welcome to Messiah” muscle tee ran over to offer me a hand. I tried to coyly flick my bangs out of my eyes. To my dismay they stuck like glue to my sweaty forehead. Damn it, August.
Hiding my embarrassment, I made the first trek up to the second floor, immediately hit by the hallway’s musty and stale smell. Yeah, this definitely used to be a guy’s floor.
I hoped to be the first to get to my room, but as soon as I entered, eyes barely visible over the cardboard box in my arms, I saw her. My new roommate.
Even though we’d never met before, we had become friends on Facebook during the summer. Social media had to count for something… right?
Moving into my new home with a perfect stranger was a weird concept. What if she talked in her sleep? What if she was one of those morning people? What if she got a boyfriend and our double room became a triple? (None of those ended up happening, but as a freshman, I was kind of an over-thinker).
We made awkward small talk for a few minutes before finding some common ground. I had come to Pennsylvania from Thailand and she had come from across a number of states. Sure, equating Southeast Asia and Maine was a bit of a stretch, but we’d both left our homes to be at Messiah College. Move-in day was a difficult one for both of us: I’d found my first friend.
I walked around campus, trying so hard not to look like another lost freshman. My campus map was in my backpack (just in case), but I tried to act like I knew what I was doing.
Everyone had that panicky look in their eyes; excitement mixed with adrenaline and maybe a little bit of fear. Every person I saw held an infinite possibility in my mind. Everyone had the potential to one day be a somebody. Would I meet my future best friend today? My next enemy? Or the boy over there – with the hipster haircut and the really great eyes – he could be my first college love. You never know.
In the evening, we came together for the annual freshman candlelight service. 800 awkward freshmen packed into the auditorium with their families. Sniffling mothers with tissues in their hands clung like limpets to their newly independent college children. Freshmen wore a tough, unblinking exterior, as though the goodbyes were beneath them. Later in the night, they’d be crying just as hard as their moms, counting down until their first visit home.
After the conclusion of speeches and songs, the lights were turned off and every person was given a lighted candle. The room of thousand-plus people was nothing but a sea of flames in the darkness. We all stood together, wax dripping onto our fingers, the class of 2016.
It was the stillest moment in a hectic day. It lasted only a minute before the bright, white and intrusive lights flickered back on and the real goodbyes began.
After the parents finally left, we were all herded together like sheep back to the gym where loud music blasted in an effort to shake the sad reverie of goodbyes. It worked, at least partially. The gym became a frenzy of shouting and high-pitched excitement as we clamored to find our orientation groups. Teary mascara-smudged faces turned to giggles and greetings. The music pumped louder, bouncing around in my skull. It felt like college had finally begun.