Orienteering is an activity that requires navigational skills– usually a map and compass– to navigate from one point to another across unfamiliar terrain. On our college campus, just like most campuses across the nation, we offer several days of “Orientation” to give our incoming students and their parents a map and compass for what lies ahead.
When new students arrive on campus, many of them bring a strong sense of where they are coming from. This is important, because their identity is wrapped up in place and people. It’s part of what makes them distinctive, and it’s part of the gift they will add to our campus community. It is important to know where you’ve been.
It’s also important to know where you’re going. That’s why we spend hours– even days –acquainting students with the campus, it’s building, its services, it’s people. Our hope is that they will soon feel at home here, but we know that takes effort. The fact is, this isn’t home – at least not yet. There are people here from a variety of backgrounds, points of view, family situations, regions of the country and the world, religions, sexual identities, political backgrounds, and orientations toward life. And they are all here to journey toward an education, toward preparation for life, toward wisdom and a sense of what is just, an understanding of what is right and what is good and how they can contribute toward these ideals. They are here to continue to shape themselves into the people they wish to be. College is a four-year, intensive engagement in that shaping. They will go to places they’ve never been, and journey down roads they have never traveled. They need maps.
They also need guides. I’m reminded of the tourists who came to the mountains to do some hiking. They brought with them their maps and some other impressive gear. They met up with a local and quickly got into a conversation about where they were going. When the local heard, he said, “Well, I’ll meet you here tomorrow and go with you.”
“No,” they insisted. “That’s not necessary. We have everything we need.”
“Are you sure?” asked the mountaineer.
“Yep. We’ve got maps showing just where we plan to go.”
“I’ll be here in the morning,” said the mountaineer.
“No thank you. We have the map.” they replied.
“Hmm…” mumbled the mountaineer. “Does that map have fog on it? I’ve been there many times before. I can help you through the fog.”
Students experience fog when they are at college. That’s why they are provided not only maps, but guides as well. Guides are faculty and staff, residence hall advisors and teammates, chaplains and counselors and coaches. These people offer companionship through the fog, and then send the students on their way when the visibility is clearer. Colleges are in the business of orienteering.