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Photo by Holden Blanco '17 via Haverford College Communications

Customs Gave Me a Community: A First-Year Perspective

Editor’s note: All opinion pieces published in The Clerk represent the views and ideas of the author. We welcome submissions from the community – please contact us at hcclerk@gmail.com.

Before I came to Haverford, I had been told that the people here are some of the friendliest and most-welcoming. I don’t know why I didn’t believe them. Maybe it was my nerves getting to me, the scary stories I heard about imposter syndrome in college, or perhaps it was my deep-seated fear of black squirrels as small yet wild animals. Even before applying to Haverford, I read its description in The Princeton Review and thought to myself, “This is some unachievable feat every college wants their prospective students to believe.” Well, I stand corrected, because this is Haverford’s reality. Still, building this sense of community is not an easy task. In my experience at Haverford, the Customs program was integral in creating a welcoming environment. 

My good friend perfectly described this one-of-a-kind orientation as sleepaway camp for college students. Fun-filled activities consumed the day and night for the new students. After a  hectic move-in, Customs began with a personal and sincere message from the President of the College herself, Wendy Raymond. As a first-year, gathering on the picturesque Founders Green alongside all my new classmates and hearing from the leader of our institution truly gave me a special feeling. It felt like a momentous first step, knowing that all of us are now a part of this highly regarded, tight-knit community. 

After speaking with some upperclassmen, I have grown to understand there were fears that Customs would be radically different or unsatisfactory since this was the first time Haverford used this Customs format. In past years, instead of having separate residential student leaders and orientation leaders, the jobs were combined. First-year halls were organized by orientation groups, and the orientation leaders, previously known as Customs People (CP’s), lived with their group. I am here to affirm that my Customs experience facilitated a great sense of community and helped prepare me for my freshman year, academically and socially.

Evidently, Customs is about the people rather than the activities. After our initial reception on Founders Green, we met with our orientation group, within which I found an immediate group of friends that quickly became familiar faces. One icebreaker activity later, I felt acquainted with a group of people who represented more diverse backgrounds than I had known all my life. There was a mix of people from all different countries, cultures, and upbringings. Some members of my group happened to live just across the hall from me, while others lived all the way across campus. Later that night, there was a competition for which group could craft the best poster to represent themselves. Unfortunately, I cannot say my group won, but I will say there is no better creative atmosphere than in the VCAM, a building that, despite having a basketball court as the floor, contains a functioning kitchen and movie theater. After just a day of being immersed in the Haverford community, which entailed some initial awkwardness, but also many fruitful and enlightening conversations with my new friends, I was no longer looking back with angst and worry. This is the place to be.

Even though the first day was wonderful, the rest of Customs was when the fun really began. Other highlights included a hypnotist show and food trucks. I am now convinced that the best way to get to know a new friend is to witness their true colors while undergoing hypnosis. There was also a party in Founders Hall called “SupaFun.” What seemed like the college’s lousy attempt at seeming cool with a sensationalized spelling turned into an actual super fun night. I think many students, myself included, were surprised to see the building that represented their school’s academic integrity transform into a place where colored lights flash, your favorite hype songs are played, and students form mosh pits and crowd surf. Seeing my peers freely dancing and singing, I realized that this is where I would be surrounded by people who help me grow and become the best version of myself. The sense of comradery and belonging we all felt, despite having just met three days ago, was contagious. This warm feeling continued into the Dorm Olympics. This abbreviated color war fostered some friendly, spirited competition and offered us yet another chance to enthusiastically shout and run around campus.

While activities like SupaFun and Dorm Olympics helped me feel closer to my peers and understand the lively social scene, I still had questions about the academics at Haverford. The biggest challenge I faced during Customs was generating a viable schedule for the fall semester. Fortunately, this was made easy by attending the Academic Teas. I was able to receive invaluable guidance on the courses I was considering taking from professors and even some department chairs. We discussed the workload, expected prior knowledge, and nature of the assessments for each of my potential classes. Above all, I was getting to know my future professors and becoming a part of a very useful network of knowledgeable and accomplished individuals. 

Not only did we make Customs history, but I feel this was a historic week. In my opinion, one of the most pivotal revisions was the choice to not divide the orientation groups by dorm. Having an orientation group consisting of people from all over campus is still meaningful for me today. Now, with many of the people I walk by on a daily basis, I am able to confidently greet them and have cordial interactions. This common familiarity applies in the dining hall too; there is rarely a time where I cannot find anyone to sit with. One of the scariest tasks about the beginning of college is branching out, so having a variety of people in my orientation group was essential. This is why our Customs tradition is so strong: Haverfordians are some of the friendliest and most-welcoming people you’ll meet. The Class of 2025 is one of the most talented and competitive groups in Haverford history. With this comes incredible amounts of insight on a variety of topics, diverging perspectives, and many strong-minded individuals. However, looking back on my Haverford experience, Customs Week will stand out as a very memorable time in my life.

View the schedule for the 2021 Customs Week.

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