Too happy

She didn’t like Stanford! According to my daughter, the campus is buzzing about a Washington Post colum by a “pro fro” (prospective freshman) who was turned off by the rah-rah atmosphere of Stanford’s recruitment weekend for admitted students.

Sarah Ball of Alexandria, Virginia wrote:

Following the icebreakers and the scavenger hunt that led me splashing through six fountains on campus, I was ready for a break, and wondering: How could I tell whether I liked the atmosphere of this excellent school when I was too busy being force-fed admissions-manufactured opinions? Forget the stale name games and the dorm-specific cheers we all learned — where were the unscheduled conversations with new acquaintances? When could I ask questions of current students and not receive a contrived answer?

She got some unscheduled time with her fellow non-minorities when the majority of students left for ethnic-themed or gay events. The undiverse remnants weren’t very chatty.

That night, as I sat on my duffel bag waiting for my cab, a Ho-Ho (house host) approached me. “Are you . . . okay?!” she asked me. I looked up at her Stanford T-shirt; a huge coil of silvery tinsel encircled her head. My interest was piqued — maybe this was it! She could tell me the straight facts, and assure me that the reality at Stanford wasn’t dividing up by racial groups or conducting senseless scavenger hunts. Maybe she’d even tell me something she didn’t like, or how she had adjusted to college life. . . . “I mean, you just look so down! We just wanted you to know how very, very, verrrrry happy we all are here on the Farm — I mean, my freshman year has been like summer camp, and. . . . ”

So she’s going to Duke, which is fairly rah-rah too, or so I’ve heard.

My daughter transferred into Stanford as a 21-year-old junior, after taking a year off. The first day of orientation — naturally geared to 18-year-old freshmen — nearly drove her nuts with its relentless peppiness. Dorm cheers, stupid ice-breakers . . . Yes, it’s true. Stanford wants you to be happy. But she toughed it out. By the second day, the perkiness was starting to de-perk.

About Joanne


  1. Mark Odell says:

    Yes, it’s true. Stanford wants you to be happy.

    Stepford University? (Sorry 🙂

  2. Independent George says:

    She should have visited the U of C. An hour later, she would have been begging for some pep.

  3. Independent George – Which U of C is this? I assumed you meant Chicago, but on discussion with a friend of mine who will be entering next year with me, we decided it couldn’t possibly be, as Chicago is pepped to the max.

    Either way, I’ve got to agree with the forced peppiness of admit weekends everywhere.

  4. Richard Heddleson says:


    I’ve generally found it pretty easy to score uppers on any campus without having to beg.

  5. UC San Diego is, or was, rather non-peppy and short on school spirit. It has no sports teams to speak of, and half the people there are biology majors of one kind or another, and very studious and serious about academics.

  6. Independent George says:

    Caddie – Chicago pepped to the max? Good lord, what have they done to my beautiful, neurotic, soul-crushing school? It must be that pink dorm they built…

  7. Richard Cook says:


    U of C pepped? No way!! I did some work their with U of C students some years ago and they definitely did not pep. I don’t think you could get pep out of a U of C student if you used a blow torch.

  8. Richard Cook says:


    U of Chicago pepped? No way!! I did some work their with U of C students some years ago and they definitely did not pep. I don’t think you could get pep out of a U of C student if you used a blow torch.

  9. Again, I’m divided.

    On the one hand, I thought that this girl was a little bit jaded–not to say snotty–for getting upset with the school’s distinct (admittedly annoying) brand of friendliness. If people try to welcome you, you should appreciate it.

    On the other hand, I lived through an orientation weekend that was decidedly similar. The particular combination of PC, condescencion, and treating us like we were about 4 years old really, really got to me. I could’ve shot someone.

    All in all, though, I would have to say that she’s probably wrong to have turned down Stanford. You can get a first rate education in many different places, but Palo Alto weather can’t be topped. (Actually, if I were her, I would have gone to Berkeley.)

  10. I posted on this a couple of days ago, here. My post doesn’t say anything dramatic, but several of the comments that readers added to it are, er, quite interesting.

  11. My UC Berkeley orientation was much the same, but tempered by the fact that they had to terrify us every few minutes about things like You’re Not Going to Get Into the Classes You Need, Don’t Even Try and Don’t Walk Around at Night Lest Ye Be Mugged and Stripped for Parts and Don’t Even Think About Bringing a Car.

    So as much as I hated the kindergarten/summer camp crap, it was nice to not be rigid with fear and tension for a bit. Plus it’s fun to make fun of that kind of stuff – your daughter should have just rolled her eyes and found a kindred spirit to which to make smart remarks.

  12. As someone who just went through the whole business school process, I can relate and appreciate this post very much b/c believe it or not, it happens even at the graduate level!!

    When I visited schools and listened to students and faculty, there were points when I wanted to get out of my seat and shout, “Tell me something the glossy admissions brochures don’t and oh yeah, BE YOURSELVES!”

    Anyway, this post made me laugh out loud.

  13. Walter Wallis says:

    When I checked into college after 5 years military and a little war, I was invited to join a frat. When it was explained to me that initiation incorporated various physical assaults I explained that my training was to respond violently to any assault and that I could not guarantee the safety or the life of any initiators who triggered my killer instincts. The offer was withdrawn. I was broken hearted, kinda.

  14. Curt Wilson says:

    As someone who, like your daughter, transfered into Stanford, and then was an RA as a senior organizing these perky affairs, I have to agree that they could be a bit over the top. But having come from an absolutely unperky school (MIT), I have to say that when things get tough, as they always will, it’s sure nice to have some perkiness to balance the grind.

  15. Darío Maciel-Hernández says:

    Marnie, it looks like you and Sarah Ball encountered a similar dilemma:

    “When I visited schools and listened to students and faculty, there were points when I wanted to get out of my seat and shout, ‘Tell me something the glossy admissions brochures don’t and oh yeah, BE YOURSELVES!'”

    Yet it appears that neither of you actually took the opportunity to make your concerns heard and actually ASK the people the questions that most mattered to you.

    -Darío Maciel-Hernández

  16. PJ/Maryland says:

    I found the article funny (and very well written for a high school senior), but I have to agree with Dario. When you step back and look at Sarah’s visit, she never (a) asked the questions she wanted answered or (b) said anything to anyone at Stanford that might lead them to tone things down. When her “Ho-Ho” asked her if everything was okay, why didn’t she say something like, “I don’t think I learned much about Stanford. What classes are you taking, and how are the teachers?” Reading between the lines, she seems to expect that people will be telepathic and so volunteer the information she wants.

    That said, I can see that an 18 year old, far from home, in a crowd of strangers, would have to have a lot of self-confidence to do anything but go with the flow. (The flow of the Ho-Hos, in this case.)

    I wonder if her perceptions would have changed if she had stayed for more than one day. On the second day, after all, she would at least have known some people’s names.

    I also wonder if this was her only visit to the school. When my friends and I were applying to colleges (20+ years ago), we went to visit them _before_ we applied. Offhand I don’t remember anyone being uncertain which school they would choose if they had to make a choice. If colleges had these “Pro-Fro” weekends back then, I never heard of them.

    The article doesn’t give any dates, but the Stanford website says that Admit Weekend was April 22-25 (Thurs-Sun). Judging by their admissions calendar, there’s not a lot of time here. Acceptance letters are mailed in “early April”, and financial aid awards are mailed a week later. So it seems you could only squeeze in one Admit Weekend; fortunately for Sarah, Duke doesn’t appear to have one.

  17. JimInNOVA says:

    Penn State does massive (optional) pre and post admit visits, as well as a required testing and orientation weekend for all incoming freshmen. Eat in the dining halls, sleep in the dorms, walk around campus, and talk to anyone you can accost. Most students are actually quite happy to answer, as long as they’re not running 3 miles across campus to get to their next class. I know that I skipped out on all of the goofy freshman activities, but I already knew my way around campus and could disappear into the masses of upperclassmen. You’d be amazed how little an RA can do to enforce “manditory” dorm get-togethers.

    PS: I despise scavenger hunts.

  18. Actually, the ‘pro-fro’ visits are a good way to see just what kind of b.s. you’re likely to have to put up with from that particular institution. It can be a real source of information. If you’re wise, you can just go along and learn everything you can about them, smiling and nodding along with their particular version of distorted reality. Then decide whether you can live with it for four years.

    OR, you can have fun with it. Put on your ‘country bumpkin’ personna, or your ‘naive little kid’ face, and ask the hard, embarrassing questions, then watch how they answer, or don’t answer. See how far you can lead them on into idiocy. You may even find that you’ve, all unintentionally, recruited some folks of like mind who’ll be happen to help you yank their chains.

    Or just skip the whole thing, like Jim apparently did. I have to admit that I’ve done that, too (and I was supposed to be part of the rah-rah group at the time, but it made me ill to even think about so I just conveniently ‘forgot’. Absent-minded, airheaded kid that I was, of course. Apologies all around, but not the end of the world).

  19. JimInNOVA says:

    Best excuse for getting out of rah-rah BS: I was doing class work. No one is going to be able to argue that forced social interaction is more important than academics. Although at a school of 40,000, I can understand why they wanted us to get to know people. I just disagreed with their methods.

  20. Outlaw3 says:

    Go to a smaller college with a better atmosphere where you have profs that know your name instead of your student number. The peppiness drains out completely, unless you get free pizza for the cheering.


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