Orientation week brings class together

SIMON SAYS: Freshmen participate in interactive activities at the BankUnited Center during University of Miami Orientation as part of the first gathering of the newest Hurricane class. FILE PHOTO.

Warm lights and a sea of smiling faces calm the nerves of the University of Miami’s incoming students. As they enter a large arena, where they will later cheer on the Canes at basketball games with a brand new group of friends, everything seems to fall into place. Orientation, the new students’ welcoming to the UM community, has begun.

The first gathering of the University of Miami’s Class of 2013 and transfer students takes place in the BankUnited Center (or the “BUC”) with hundreds of people you don’t know. It can be overwhelming, but that nervousness usually fades after President Donna E. Shalala’s announcement that you are all officially Hurricanes.

“I just remember thinking to myself that UM was going to be a completely different experience from anything else I have ever done, and once I started getting to know other students, I was excited for what was to come,” Program Coordinator Ricky Fernandez said.

UM Orientation, which takes place from August 20-25, is a week-long event to welcome and introduce freshman and transfer students from across the globe to their new homes on campus. Parents also get welcomed to school through a two-day parent orientation program that includes a brunch with President Shalala. The event serves as a jump-off point for students that will help them through their entire time at the University of Miami.

Festivities begin with the Cane Kickoff at the BankUnited Center, followed by a series of informational sessions about the university, group activities and events to help students feel academically and socially comfortable.

For some students like junior Courtney Cross-Johnson, the fondest memory of orientation is the “friends you make, and of course, all the free stuff.”

Water bottles, spirit banners, food and enough t-shirts to outfit a student for an entire semester are given out during Canefest, which takes place on the last day of orientation in the BankUnited Center. Most of the student organizations at the university have tables set up around the arena to discuss their programs with new students.

“Orientation is really the beginning of a new chapter of your life. It lays the foundation for your next four years,” Program Coordinator Hunter Heniser said. “You meet friends that you will keep for life, and you begin making memories that you will have forever.”

It is also a time to become familiar with the academic surroundings students will encounter. Through dean’s meetings, course scheduling and academic advising, students can plan out in advance what they will be doing at UM.

To help familiarize new students with campus grounds, orientation leaders offer tours around UM. During these tours, leaders teach the newcomers campus lingo and about Hurricane traditions. The 230-acre campus – another lies on Virginia Key and a third is near downtown Miami – is small by most national standards, but when you don’t know exactly where everything is, the campus sprawl can be intimidating. But with a map in hand and the assistance of the orientation leaders, this is a very solvable problem. And being in the tropical atmosphere makes everything a lot easier.

“There isn’t much not to love about the weather in Miami and the scenery in Coral Gables and UM, so students are usually really happy to see for the first time where they will be living for the next few years,” Fernandez said.

Perhaps the most popular feature of orientation is the President’s Picnic. All new students are invited to a picnic hosted by President Shalala to enjoy some food and entertainment, as well as to have another chance to meet future friends.

“The President’s Picnic is basically the largest tailgate party you will ever attend. There is food everywhere, the band is playing, and you get to hang out with the president herself,” Heniser said. “Also, be sure to grab one of the ice cream sandwiches. They are the best part.”

That inaugural week is also the time to begin picking up on Hurricane traditions. The quickest way to learn what it means to bleed orange and green is to listen to your orientation leaders. They offer a wealth of information, including many tips and tricks for navigating everything from your academic path to campus life.

Another tradition you’ll be introduced to during orientation is the Canes’ lovable mascot, Sebastian the Ibis. The ibis is the last sign of wildlife to leave before a hurricane and the first to return after.

Sebastian is an avid sports fan as well as a scholar. He’ll be seen either in athletic jerseys or in his Iron Arrow jacket. Iron Arrow is the highest honor that anyone can receive at UM. Select students and alumni get tapped into the secretive society that is charged with preserving the traditions and legacy of the university.

And then there is Lake Osceola. Just be warned: do not go swimming in the lake.