Without a doubt, my favorite part of my undergraduate experience was the communal time I spent with other students.
Many undergraduates form tight-knit groups of friends with the people who live in their residence halls. They grow close to their roommates, they befriend their Gryphon, and they have great experience right in their halls. They rise up to be sophomores and live with their close friends. My experience was different. I never developed a close connection to my first year roommate, hall mates, or Gryphon. As a freshman, during the first few weeks of my fall semester, I was panicked that I would never find people to hang out with because I wasn’t great friends with my hall mates. It was only about a month later, when I put myself out there to join the campus LGBT student group, that my whole college experience changed.
Though I was terrified about introducing myself to people, I swallowed my pride. And I was surprised to find that older, more experienced students were soon inviting me to eat and hang out with them. They were a wealth of information about academics, campus culture, and general college life, and they were more than willing to share. They encouraged me to build a thriving and fulfilling life on campus: to put myself out there and establish a mentoring relationship with a professor, to explore interests that they may not have, and to influence campus life in my own unique way. I learned just as much from this core group as I did in the classroom.
It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realized this wasn’t the only group of students who were so willing to help. There are many communities with different affinities, identities, and interests that are a fundamental part of the college experience, and virtually all of them work this same way: come in, fit in, be mentored, mentor others. When I got older, because I had been so lovingly guided by older students, I was eager to pay this deed forward. I offered my help to younger students who came to SPECTRUM and the Rainbow Room, nervous at first, but who were quickly integrated into my Lehigh family. At a University like Lehigh, I truly believe there is a community for everyone, waiting, wanting to embrace new students. The vast majority of people have this experience, whether it is inside the residence hall or elsewhere on campus, such as Greek life, athletics, religious or cultural organizations, chess club, band, or through community service. I feel that for myself, this experience was as invaluable as any class, paper or internship that I completed.
Erin Thorn, Class of 2011, is currently studying for her Juris Doctorate at Hofstra Law School. She is also a legal intern at ILGA World, a worldwide federation of over 900 local and national LGBTI organizations dedicated to achieving equal rights for LGBTI people and their liberation from all discrimination.