Patrick Talamantes, ‘15, is a freshman at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He is planning on majoring in psychology, although he will not declare a major until sophomore year. Talamantes has been at UVA for the past three weeks.
Q: What was your first impression?
A: What I liked is that UVA is a big school with a lot of school spirit. But there is a real effort to make it feel like a close community. They really emphasize having a community at a decently big school. I know I’m getting the best of both worlds—a close-knit community and strong school spirit.
Q: How was orientation?
A: It was actually cool. Over the summer we had a summer orientation, which mainly focused on registering for classes.
When we got here, we had four days of orientation. There were a couple of mandatory meetings that were actually generally pretty interesting. There were speeches by the dean of students, president of the university and the student council. There was also a speech from one of the honor students because the honor kids are a really big deal here.
And then one of the secret societies, called the Sevens, had put a letter under the seventh seat in the seventh row. The person sitting there had to go up and read the letter from them.
They also had cool events. One of them was where all the a cappella groups performed a couple songs for the whole school. It was an advertisement to have people audition for them.
Q: Do secret societies play a big role at UVA?
A: They are a really big thing. There are a lot where you don’t know anyone. You see their emblems everywhere.
Q: Would you join one?
A: For sure! Oh, my god! I would die if I got to be part of a secret society. That would be the coolest thing ever.
Q: What classes are you enjoying the most?
A: Intro to Psychology and Intro to Youth and Social Innovation. Intro to Psychology because our professor is really fun and really good. He does a great job of keeping a 300-student class engaged.
Intro to Youth and Social Innovation is set up very differently. There are 40 of us and it’s not just first years.There is this program in place called Day in the Life which is basically where volunteers mentor and teach at various sites. Basically throughout the class we focus on one of the sites. We use design thinking, which is another model of solving problems that was mainly developed for businesses, to try and really enhance this program.
Basically the whole semester is one long project. There’s a lot more homework in that class than any of my other classes.Which I discovered last night at 2 a.m.
Q: What surprised you?
A: Teachers and my mom would say that when I went to college I would have these conversations about life that I never would have had before. I didn’t really believe them. But it turns out the third night of school I had like a three-hour conversation about someone’s religion, comparing and contrasting. Just having a really intellectual spur-of-the-moment conversation! I wasn’t expecting it, but I really enjoyed it.
Everyone is really bright and interesting. Even if they aren’t going to be your best friend or even if you don’t particularly like the person, they are an interesting person.
Also, everyone dresses nicely. It’s different from California. I knew it going in, but I didn’t really know it. Everyone dresses preppily. When you go to a football game, you’re expected to dress up. They have a saying—“Guys in ties and girls in pearls.”
Q: Are you involved in any extracurriculars?
A: I tried out for a sketch-writing class. I didn’t get in, which is kind of a bummer. I joined the Parkour Club, which is pretty cool. I’m waiting to see what other drama things pop up. Right now I’m just chilling and seeing what there is. We don’t rush until spring, so that isn’t even an option. I’m still not sure whether I’m going to do that.
Q: What’s is like going to a school with such a large community?
A: You can definitely tell the difference. What helped me is that I met a couple people at my summer orientation. And they happened to know a bunch of people, and that has kind of become our friend group. There are huge crowds of people walking from class to class. It’s not hard to make friends if you’re willing to talk to strangers.
Q: What traditions does UVA have?
A: I love our song. It’s called the “Gold Old Song.” We sing it every time we have a touchdown or field goal or we are just getting pumped up about UVA in general. There’s also this thing called the Lighting of the Lawn. The lawn is the very center of grounds, and that’s the area that Thomas Jefferson actually designed. So it’s pretty iconic. Everyone puts up Christmas lights. In the rotunda, the most iconic part, the engineering and architecture school sets up a light show. Everyone goes out to see it. It’s synced to music.
Q: Any advice for the class of 2015?
A: Try not to sweat it too much. The last year is a pain in the ass with all the essay writing and stuff. You’ve already put in most of the work. Your essays and stuff are sort of showing people who you are and owning that. The more comfortable you are with owning who you are, the better off you will be. It’s your chance to define yourself rather than let other people define you.
Enjoy it. Don’t get so stressed out that you don’t enjoy your last year of high school. Don’t let your parents’ worries or your teachers’ worries get in the way of it.