Editor’s Note: We asked Alex Peterson ’12 M.Div., who along with Josh Rodriguez ’12 M.Div. was a coordinator of this year’s weeklong BTFO orientation for incoming students, to write a brief reflection on what it was like to organize BTFO – a huge process many months in the making. Following are Peterson’s observations. Beginning in April, Peterson and Rodriguez launched an enterprising BTFO blog, “The Candy Bowl”, that introduced incoming students to YDS and New Haven even before new students arrived on campus the last week of August.
By Alex Peterson ’12 M.Div.
Before the Fall Orientation was absolutely integral for me as a new student last year; several members of my small group continued to be strong friends, study partners, support for my spiritual journey, and compatriots on the intramural fields. Last year’s coordinators did a strong job at diminishing fears that paralyzed me, so that I could recover who I was in time for classes to start. In short, it allowed this boy from small-town Nebraska to plant his roots here.
The goal to diminish fears and foster community were the same this year, while also allowing more free time (yes, for those who took part this year and think ‘what free time!’, we cut the time each day!). We worked hard to provide a weeklong schedule that would be informative to all, but not necessary for all at all times.
One of the best compliments I received at the end of BTFO was when someone said they felt comfortable enough in BTFO to take breaks from panels when needed. My year, I was one of those students who attended absolutely every panel I could, and needed a vacation by the end. If at least one student didn’t feel pressured to follow that path, then I feel BTFO was a success. This follows in line with another highlight for me: by the end of the week, people were still smiling. Most of the class seemed to be more relaxed at the end of the week than at the start. I’m not alone in this thought: many staff and returning students have commented how this year’s class seems less anxious and nervous than previous years. Whatever the cause, I’m glad for it.
BTFO is a chance for students and classes to begin framing their story. It’s a chance to start meeting people, to interact informally, and to build social capital and support networks prior to the start of the semester, when it can become difficult for some to do this. Whether it’s experiencing a Sung Morning Prayer together for the first time, singing at karaoke with friends, or sharing a common meal in a professor’s home, I feel BTFO can be an amazing opportunity to till the soil and begin planting roots.
Organizing BTFO has enabled me to revisit my experience last year, and to really highlight how wonderfully vibrant our community can be. It has also reminded me of why I chose Yale: the community. There is no way BTFO would have been remotely successful without the support of the faculty, staff, BTFO-ers, and especially volunteers who gave of themselves to make others feel welcome. At the end of the day, this is a place where one can flourish and grow, and BTFO allowed me to relearn that lesson.