This past weekend I attended a retreat for Orientation Advisors. Orientation Advisors are the students that work throughout the summer with new students and help them prepare for college, give them helpful information about U.T., and let them know what to expect for the coming year.
Now, I am not one for retreats. I often get overwhelmed by new people, especially people that are my age, and generally shutdown in an attempt to not make waves or be seen. However, the OA Retreat was absolutely amazing. I have been on many retreats through high school and various organizations in college but all fail in comparison to that one.
The first day was from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and was a day to get to know others and have ice breakers. We had breakout sessions and were given some basic knowledge. The Retreat Committee that planned the day did a fantastic job. The facilitators, fellow Orientation Advisors, Orientation Coordinators, and Returning Orientation Advisors helped to make it a night I will not forget.
Day 2, however, was the day that I feel I grew up and had a life changing experience. It is in my opinion, that few events come around that absolutely change your life, the way you think, the way you view the world, and the way you interact with others. Orientation Retreat Day 2 was that day for me.
The early part of the day was spent giving us information about campus issues (safety, alcohol abuse, personal violence). I never knew how much of an issue those three things were until then. I mean, I knew that there was a risk of thefts and that alcohol abuse was common; however, I have never heard a personal story about somebody who had to go through such a thing. Just putting a name to a phrase completely changed my outlook. People shared personal stories and stories about friends. That alone was enough for me to leave a completely different person.
Most of the rest of the day was spent talking and discussing Social Justice and the various aspects that surround it. I feel as though the activities and discussions we had are personal and private because my fellow OA’s had enough faith in me to tell me, so I don’t really want to dive into personal accounts. However, it was one of the most mentally and emotionally fulfilling occasions that I have ever participated in, as well as, one of the most mentally and emotionally draining.
You never know what people have been through in their past that makes them who they are today. You never know the hardships that people have faced because they seem so positive on the surface. You never know that one student has dealt with suicide in their family or that another student grew up dealing with alcohol and drug abuse in their home because they do not let those instances define them. When they would tell their story or stand and walk across the room, they did so with their heads held high.
It opened my eyes and my mind in so many ways. At first I thought of my brother, who is 2, and how much I absolutely love him and how I never want him to have to go through any of the things that they mentioned. I thought of how blessed I was to grow up in a stable home, with two parents that have worked tirelessly throughout the years to make sure that I have had the best life possible. I thought of where I may have ended up had one of my parents past away or if we were financially unable for me to attend this University. It just made me realize how blessed I am, how amazing my support system is and how my childhood has helped to shape me into the person I am today.
Then, I turned and I looked at my fellow orientation advisors. I looked at my fellow students who shared their stories. How much courage it must have taken them to share with us their past. How they held their heads high as they did so. How when asked to raise our hands if something applied to us, nobody was alone. It made me have so much more respect for them, knowing that they have overcome so much and that they are strong people. They are not the type of people that bow down or let a past event be a crutch but they built themselves stronger because of it.
Retreat this weekend was such an amazing experience. I truly made some of the greatest friends I could ever imagine. I gained a whole new appreciation for life. I opened my mind to new ideas and other peoples thoughts on topics. I realized that though I am one, I can be a supporter to many. I learned that we all have dealt with issues in our lives but we choose how to respond to them. I don’t think my fellow OA’s or leaders will understand how much retreat meant to me. It gave me a new view of the world and how I want to change it. I thought of how uncomfortable some situations make me and that they are miniscule compared to what others have had to deal with. I learned that I take so much for granted. I learned how much I need to appreciate this wonderful life I have been given.
I would just like to take this moment to thank all of the people that made this retreat possible. I want to thank all of the students who shared their stories, when they didn’t have to. I want to thank the people in DeKalb that have helped me so much along the way.
I especially want to thank my Mom, Dad, Nana, G, Gran, Pete, Grandmama, Granny and the rest of my family for building and shaping me into the person that I am. I want to make a promise to my brother that I will always be there for you, that I am only a phone call away, and that I will always love you no matter what.
I would like to end this blog, not with a Ciao and Hook’em but with what I learned today in my OA class:
“We do not know all there is to know. Just because you are, doesn’t mean you understand. Just because you are not, does not mean that you can’t or don’t want to. Conflict and discomfort are often part of growth. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Doing your personal work is important, you must heal so you can forgive and let go. There are no quick fixes. There is HOPE.”