The Infiltrator

Writer Marjan Hajibandeh '09E never had an orientation to call her own. So she found one to crash.

Voices of the Class
Students perform in the 2008 production of Voices of the Class
“Hi. My name is Daniel, and I’m from Chicago.” Daniel sat down next to me in Buckley Recital Hall, and we waited anxiously for the first official event of the semester to begin. He was exactly as I expected him to be: outgoing but a little nervous. The fact that he sat down next to me probably meant he was still searching for a clique, many of which I already witnessed forming around me. It was like the first day of summer camp.

I’m not a first-year student; I had no business crashing his orientation. I tried to blend in, but I soon blew my cover and told him I was a spy. Because I was a spring-semester transfer student, I never had an orientation to call my own. Now that I’m less than a semester away from graduating, I couldn’t help but feel I had missed out on something. So when this year’s First-Year Orientation rolled around, I jumped at the chance to live vicariously through the Class of ’12.

Inside Buckley, President Anthony W. Marx and various deans welcomed the swarm of new students around me. I pretended they were welcoming me as well. When Katie Fretwell, director of admission, shared neat facts about this year’s applicant pool, I waited in vain to hear something about myself. When I attended the DeMott Lecture, Gov. David Freudenthal ’73 of Wyoming directed his speech to everyone sitting for the first time in Johnson Chapel. I was sitting there for perhaps the 20th time.

As the week went on, I ducked my head into every Orientation activity I could. But without a doubt, the event I most wished I could have attended as an insider was Voices of the Class, in which a group of upperclassmen dramatized a cross-section of admission essays written by the entering class. Each monologue gave a short glimpse into one student’s world. The students had given advance permission, and their essays were read anonymously. Still, I felt nervous for them; it’s hard to predict what kind of creative license performers will exercise. Even so, I would have loved the adrenaline rush of being featured on stage—whether it meant being glorified, teased, or outright mocked. For me, the evening was a ritual cleansing of the past and collective transition into the present. The performances invited students to release the grip they held on the past and simultaneously appreciate what brought them to Amherst.

Voices of the Class taught me that one of the first-years—probably someone in the audience around me—hated the way his father followed him around at the mall. Another thought the essay questions from the Amherst application insulted her intelligence. One essay’s description of fashion as a “living, moving art” inspired me to stop dressing like a scrub. My favorite excerpt was from a student who shared the story of her mother’s “ugly hands,” worn and wrinkled from her job as a nail technician. When mother and daughter held hands, it was as though they melted into a single being. She wrote that her own hand was distinguishable only by her writer’s bump—something her mother never had the opportunity to develop.

No person is defined by a single piece of writing—much less an admission essay—but after the performance, I felt so connected to this new group of students that I wanted to be a part of them. As much as I longed to, though, I couldn’t start over. I couldn’t take everything I know now and magically arrive with it on my first day. Neither could I give all the first-years the benefit of knowing all the things that await them. The night made me realize how much I’d soon miss about being an undergrad, but it also gave me a swift kick in the pants. Trying to go back in time to recapture some vague feeling was the most unproductive way I could be spending my last semester. I admit that this nostalgic moment was just a way to avoid planning for the future. It did, however, inspire me to take advantage of all the things I’m missing out on right now—namely, appointments with the Career Center. Now that I’ve stopped avoiding it, I’m excited to plunge into the next chapter of my life, in which I get to make more mistakes and isolate more variables in my character. For the first time, I'm happy to admit that my days at Amherst are numbered.