Ben May's first year at Indiana University wasn't exactly the experience he had imagined. As a high school senior, he visited campus and became enamored with the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. As he visited other campuses, it became clear that IU was the school for him. But the unexpected loss of his beloved grandmother coupled with a drift from his close high school friends put a dark cloud over his first semester.
To cope, May thrust himself into his schoolwork and fell in love with his introductory law courses -- a signal that his choice to major in international law and philosophy was the right one. He was admitted to the Hutton Honors College and joined the IU Student Government Freshman Internship Program. His fellow freshman interns became his IU family, and he signed a lease to live with a few during his sophomore year.
When May heard about the opportunity to become an orientation leader at New Student Orientation, he thought he could ease incoming students' nerves by sharing his ability to overcome his first-semester hardships. He had fond memories of his orientation and wanted to pay it forward to new Hoosiers.
But by mid-March, just a few weeks after training began for the Orientation Team -- known as OTeam -- the university announced that it would transition to remote learning for the two months after spring break. As an international studies student, May had been watching the spread of the virus closely and had a sense that he would not return to campus after the break. On their last night in town, he and his friends walked the entire campus, reflected on their first year at IU and said goodbye to their new home.
"When I was leaving for spring break, my mentality was that, sure, my life was changing and my time at IU would likely change, but that seemed small because the whole world was changing," May said.
And while the remainder of the semester may have not been what he imagined for his freshman year, May said that his professors, fellow members of student government and the OTeam made the most of a difficult situation.
Now, from his family's home in Richmond, Indiana, May is helping first-year students during virtual orientation programming. As an orientation leader, he hosts group Zoom calls multiple nights a week so new students can get to know him, get to know each other and ask questions that are top of mind. He also corresponds directly with incoming students via Canvas. By the end of the summer, May will have oriented nearly 400 new Hoosiers.
The main focus of the job, according to May, is to provide comfort to the incoming students. Going to college is already a big transition fraught with uncertainty. In the time of coronavirus, those nerves and uncertainty are amplified. Though May is unable to tell students exactly what their first year at IU will look like, he said he tries to reassure students that they are up for any challenges that may lay ahead.
"I mostly try to remind them that IU chose them because it thought they could handle a difficult transition," May said. "Leaving home is already a hard transition, and this is just another that you're capable of handling."
In group sessions, May also shares that becoming a Hoosier means becoming a part of the Hoosier family. That means taking care of one another by practicing good hygiene, staying away from others when feeling sick, wearing your mask on campus, checking in on one another's mental health and, ultimately, putting fellow Hoosiers before yourself.
"Even though it may not actually look exactly like what you applied for, being a Hoosier means working hard and persevering, and in this moment, we are called to do that," May said. "In dire circumstances we are all required to make some sacrifices, and I think it's an honor to see what we can do for each other and how IU can transform and respond in this moment."
The coronavirus crisis has taught May a lot about resilience and community, but he said it has also made it clearer to him how dangerous the economic, racial and social divides in the United States are. This has reinforced his plans to attend law school after graduation and eventually enter politics.
"Growing up was hard and my family was in poverty at times, but I had a lot of advocates," May said. "I feel called in this moment to be an advocate for others. People have been saying that coronavirus is going to change the world forever, and from my perspective, that's a great thing."
On July 9, join us as we follow Ben May through his day as an IU student as part of our One Day/One Hoosier series. Look for his story through @IUBloomington on Twitter and @iubloomington on Instagram as it happens live starting around 9 a.m. EDT.