Creative Writing by Bruce Whealton

Bruce Whealton

Chapter 2: A New Life Awaits - Going Off to College

Bruce whealton

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Growing up, I always knew that I was going to go off to college one day. I surely knew this as far back as
Elementary school. My parents encouraged me, beginning in 6th or 7th grade to join the band so that I
would have extra-curricular activities which would help me get into a good college.
I think that being in the band was seen as an extra-curricular activity that even a shy person like me could
do. I’m not sure what the thinking was on that. I had been retreating into the proverbial shell that
characterizes the life of a shy person. I was becoming something of a ghost or invisible. I wasn’t very
It’s interesting that the most valuable things that I learned in college came from psychology. I was an
engineering major. That was all I knew when I set off for college. Unfortunately, at my high school, they
did not offer anyone any guidance in high school to help them decide what is a good match for them to
study in college. That would have been possible and in many TV shows, I have seen this happening.
My father was an engineer but as much as I wanted to impress my parents and be recognized, I don’t think
I was trying to emulate my father in terms of a career direction. I did want to and expected that someday I
would live in a nice home like we had growing up and I would have a wife and children.
It’s also interesting to note that I never remembered my parents telling me what they thought would be a
good career direction for me or what they expected… just that I would go to college.
I had no idea how that was going to happen for me. I had trouble meeting people, making friends, I never
I selected the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta because I thought I wanted to be
an engineer and I had heard that Georgia Tech was a prestigious engineering school. All the colleges to
which I was accepted were far from where I grew up and had been living. This caused me some concern
because I would be leaving behind a place that was familiar to me and where I had friends and an
extended family.
I felt comfortable with my extended family, including my aunt and cousins. I liked them. I liked seeing
them as often as possible.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to make friends far away at college.
I had virtually no social skills and I was very shy.
I would end up building a career around helping others with problems or issues like shyness as well as
emotional and psychological issues or problems.
I didn’t want to leave and go so far away. My friend Paul had moved out of the neighborhood and I wasn’t
hanging out with him as much. So, the only sense of comfort came from my extended family.
Paul and I had been best friends but when he had to move we drifted apart. It seemed like nothing lasts in
I felt lonely when I went off to college.
It was late August when we drove from Southington, Connecticut all the way to Atlanta, Georgia, and the
campus of Georgia Tech. We were arriving early for orientation before classes begin.
Parents are invited to join the students for orientation.
The south overall is much less populated than the north but Georgia Tech is situated nearly in the center
of the city of Atlanta, GA. I had grown up in a town that had a population of roughly 30,000 and now I
was in a city with a metropolitan population of about 5 million. To call this a culture shock would be an
I felt a mixture of pride and fear as we turn into the campus. Dad was driving and Mom was sitting in the
front seat next to him. My sister, Carrie, and brother John were at home back in Southington. Carrie was
in high school now.
We were looking for the Student Center. The first things we saw were some athletic fields and the
Basketball stadium. Then we came across the fraternity houses – I just knew that was what we were
seeing. They all had three Greek letters on the outside.
There were a few sororities too, but I know that males outnumber females by a ratio of more than two to
one at engineering schools. That’s okay, I was too shy to date.
Maybe I would get to know some girls. Maybe college would be different. I guess I wasn’t thinking that it
would be far more challenging to meet a girl and to date when one attends a university where males
outnumber females by a ratio of two to one.
In the back of my mind, I had been thinking that as an adult, I would also want to form a family and so
that would involve dating. That was part of the life plan that I had.
I noticed how Georgia Tech fits into downtown Atlanta like a small hidden or forbidden community
within a larger city that was filled with traffic, skyscrapers, and a huge metropolitan area.
Yep, this was going to be a very new experience for me.
For the most part, as part of “orientation”, they separated the parents from the new kids, the incoming
freshmen. I’m not sure what the thinking was on that. The parents were about to leave and go back home.
I was thinking that having parents attend “orientation” was pointless – they would be going back home
I could feel how different this was from what I had known in life – It was unfamiliar. Don’t get me wrong,
growing up there were not many rules during high school. I can’t think of a rule come to think of it. I
didn’t have a curfew. I just had to be home for dinner.
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I had known for many years I was going to go to college after high
school. I was encouraged to save money for this but from a practical standpoint, it was obvious that most
of the cost of my education would be paid for by Mom and Dad. That included tuition, books, and various
living expenses.
The idea that one could be a full-time student at Georgia Tech and have a job didn’t seem like something
that would be expected of me.
Now, I would be completely on my own. I was about to discover how great that would be.
During orientation, there were daily activities (forced activities) like the first day we went rafting on the
Chattahoochee River, and I suppose the goal was to help us to start to connect to others. When I say, we
went rafting, I mean I went with other incoming freshmen. I don’t know what the parents were doing.
You don’t have to travel far to get out of the city with the skyscrapers and find yourself in the country
where you could go rafting. That’s where I really felt like a misfit. I tried so hard to connect. It seemed
like the others were talking to each other and connecting but I could never think of anything to say – to
anyone at any time. That left me with a constant feeling of being “different.”
I am describing this so that you, dear reader, will understand what shyness is like for me.
I was thinking that if I appeared “different” then it would become increasingly more difficult to connect
because I imagined there would be more time for people to notice that I was “different.” I wasn’t scared or
nervous, but nothing was coming to mind to say. I felt a sense of urgency to speak – to seem “normal.”
I wanted to make connections and make friends in this new environment. That meant I wanted to appear
to be “normal” and just like everyone else. So, I felt an urgency to connect right away.
I didn’t want much time to pass by where people might start thinking something like “what’s wrong with
that guy, he doesn’t speak to anyone, he has nothing to say.”
Yes, that was exactly what was going through my mind. I didn’t want to stand out as a misfit, an outsider.
It seemed like such a person is viewed negatively and it makes it harder to later appear to be normal and
to “fit in.”
As part of this “orientation”, both parents and the incoming students were told a truth that everyone
needed to understand – not everyone who gets admitted to Georgia Tech is going to graduate.
We were told to look at the person to our left then the person to our right. “One of you will graduate!”
You didn’t have to spell it out. Two out of three of us would flunk out.
Hearing this, I didn’t feel any different. I felt like the weight of this challenge had been there in the back
of my mind for some time. I felt a bit frightened, but it was about something more than the classes. I
could not imagine what the classes would be like yet.
My fear was about appearing as an outsider and a misfit. In high school, I was invisible, like a ghost. I
had come here and would be alone. I didn’t want that to happen. I was scared of loneliness.
I wanted to connect. During these activities, everything seemed so much easier for everyone else. So
often my thoughts were preoccupied with the fact that I couldn’t find anything to say.
I watched others, observed and it seemed like things were easier for others. I didn’t have social skills. That
much was true.
I wondered if there is a way to get help for my problems. It was then that I realized something powerful
and important. I was in control of things going forward! I could make things different for me! I was free.
It might be reasonable to wonder why I had not gotten counseling for my shyness and social anxiety long
ago. Maybe it was too embarrassing for me to talk to Mom and Dad about it.
Even before I found out about services that might be available to students, I imagined that they must have
some kind of counseling center. How did I know that?
Now, I was on my own and I wouldn’t have to explain what I was doing or where I was going to Mom
and Dad. They were not going to be present. I was on my own.
Ah, the freedom felt slightly soothing.
I couldn’t share with my mother and father the shame that I had been feeling because of my shyness and
lack of social skills. Just as it was when I was growing up, this was too embarrassing to discuss with
Mom and Dad.
I didn’t know what the experience was like for Mom and Dad, they didn’t convey much of what they
experienced. They said their goodbyes and good luck.
Now, during orientation, making friends, connecting seemed like a matter of survival.
I had a sense that failure academically, here at Georgia Tech, for me meant failure in life.
Evening fell hard each day with the weight of my isolation echoing through my mind. Everyone else was
doing something. If anyone saw me all alone pacing the halls of the dorm, what would they think?
Growing up I had some friends and neighbors and felt somewhat comfortable with them. I had my
cousins and my aunt.
Now I had to make connections.
On the second day after arrival, I was feeling an overwhelming need to do something. It felt like more
than one day had passed and the weight of isolation had been so heavy. I couldn’t face another night
pacing the halls. Walking past the vending machines… the TV room. It was so quiet, and I felt so alone
and scared.
Now, that night, we were having a barbeque with hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. I had to try to
I noticed this guy who seemed approachable. There were only the two of them. I could handle that. Just
move close and act calm.
I felt awkward and hoped it didn’t show. They were talking about going to fraternity parties.
“Do you mind if join you?” I asked. “Good job,” I thought. I was direct and I confronted my fear of
Before long, we were walking off to a few of the frat houses. We stopped at a couple of frat houses that
night, and then the next night we did the same thing, ending up at Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternity.
This was Rush week when the fraternities recruit new members – new pledges.
I felt different here at ZBT. When we visited any frat house, they all tried to make us feel special, but I
just liked this place. The guys that I came with had been socializing with different people at the house. I
couldn’t dance and did my best to avoid the big room where they did that.
I would move about with surprising ease in other rooms and outside the frat house. Mainly, I was
listening. I let the frat brothers do the talking.
They did “love bombing.” That’s the word for it. I knew they were making us feel special as a recruitment
strategy and yet it was helpful.
I met one person after another who sold me what we needed to do. Johnny was really friendly and
relatable. Danny was cool in an unusual way. Stew was the cook and he looked, well, always like he was
high. How the heck could he do that and be a Chemical engineer?
I had the idea that this is what I should do. I needed to make friends and a connection and nothing like
this had happened to me in such a short period of time.
Every once in a while, they would ring a bell and cheer when someone declares their intent to pledge the
It took so much effort for me to find the courage to tell someone that I would pledge. I was so dreading
the event when I would be the center of attention. I realized that this wouldn’t last for long before they
move on to the next person. Still, I had NEVER made myself the center of attention.
Well, I had to get this over with, right? I put my mind to it and went with the flow. I told this guy named
Pat who was standing next to Stew and they cheered and rang the bell. I knew that I didn’t want this so I
had to force myself to do it knowing that if I thought about it, I wouldn’t do it.
It was amazing how fast things change. The moment when they are cheering and focused on me lasted
only a few moments and then it was over.
After Rush Week
Things changed after “Rush” and classes were getting started. Suddenly, you have been transformed from
the person who was treated like they are so special to being treated like a lowly pledge. I don’t mean they
did anything bad. It’s just that the dynamics changed. As a pledge, there are things you have to do. This
will culminate in a final “initiation” when we finally become members of the fraternity.  
We were given a pledge paddle early and you are required to wear a suit or jacket and tie to classes for
part of the period. You are expected to show up at the frat house every day and kneel down holding your
paddle up to ask for permission to enter in a ritualistic fashion. It was out in the open, so it wasn’t hazing
or anything nefarious. It just felt embarrassing.
I didn’t want to be the center of attention anywhere. So, I would dress normally for classes, not bring my
paddle to classes like everyone else but I would get it at the end of the day when I was expected to show
up at the frat house. I would be sneaky and break the “rules” or “expectations” about what we were
supposed to do when I was going to class or otherwise on campus. I couldn’t imagine any punishment if I
was caught.
Growing up, the only rules or expectations had to do with the needs or desires of our parents.
We did all our studying and homework at the frat house unless we had to do something on the mainframe
computer stations, or if there were reasons to be elsewhere for study groups or lab work.
Toward the end of the quarter, we had “initiation” where we would become full members of the fraternity.
The fraternity made this somewhat mysterious, and we had assignments to complete in groups. It was
actually good for team building and connecting as a group together.
You might have seen some movie that tries to depict a fraternity initiation. Take an oldie like “Animal
House” where the pledges bend over and are hit with a paddle and they answer, “thank you, sir, may I
have another.” Nothing like that happened. We learned a “secret handshake.”
Some might call my book a tell-all book – that term is popular these days. While I am not going to be
evasive in this book about embarrassing or emotional matters, that doesn’t mean I am going to tell you
everything, dear reader. I am fine with keeping “innocent” secrets about matters that are unimportant to
my story and that include details about the initiation.
So, that was an overview of a few things that characterized my first quarter at Georgia Tech. These were
the first few months of my “adult” life on my own.
Life already seemed better than I had known earlier in life. There are a few things that I left out. In the
next chapter, where I use the cliché “Boy Meets Girl” in the name of the chapter, I will introduce some of
the other things I was learning about how to make connections.