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The annual world record: Not necessary for O-week

By Adrianne Glenn / For The Pitt News

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Among the bystander seminars, the Activities Fair, the building-wide meetings and the convocation is, perhaps, the most pointless orientation event — the world record.

From the Class of 2015’s record for the most people waving glow sticks to form an image of the Cathedral of Learning to the Class of 2018’s attempt to reclaim that record by forming a picture of Earth using blue and orange lights, it seems that this is a tradition that will persist for years to come. 

But, as Homecoming rolls around, will anyone really care to associate this with their first semester of college?

The world record attempt has become a stamp of the year’s start. Whether this activity is an attempt to force students to bond by putting them in close quarters while they sweat profusely over one another or a way to show them what they can accomplish through teamwork, it nonetheless falls short.

World records are completely arbitrary. I guarantee that whoever holds the record for the largest Garfield memorabilia collection does not receive fulfillment from holding that record but rather from pursuing his or her passion to such an extent.

A world record that is not characterized by a passion or a talent is inherently meaningless. We don’t have a collective passion for glow sticks or umbrella dances. This is not a symbol of our life’s work or a talent any of us possess. The people in the picture who receive credit for this record do nothing more than stand in a delegated spot and raise their arm when told.

The students’ role in this is not an exercise in teamwork either. I get the symbolism — when one person raises a glow stick in the air it looks like nothing more than a blue spec, but when more than 3,000 people do it, it looks like a building or a planet.

However, it is important to look at more than what the intended message is, and explore the idea that is actually coming across. Creating images like these shows how people can come together to make something, yet it also implies that this teamwork makes the task effortless for each individual — which is almost never the case.

The assertion that teamwork relieves all of the effort from the individual is problematic and goes against the premise of teamwork.

The fundamental idea that gives the concept of teamwork any value is that the people involved work together to accomplish something. Students are not doing any work in our record attempts and we have no need to cooperate with one another to complete this task because we were all being told explicitly what to do and how to do it.

There is also no cooperation going on between the students. They are not forced to figure out placement themselves or to work with one another to figure out the best way to replicate the image. Their only concerns are refraining from shouldering the person next to them and being able to control their glow stick’s on/off switch.

So maybe this was never about teamwork and maybe it was a way for students to bond with their new classmates. After all, there is no better way to make new friends than to stand super close to them in the August heat for an extended period of time while waving a glow stick in their face every few seconds — except, of course, sitting down and speaking to someone in an air-conditioned, glow stick-free environment. That usually works pretty well, too.

It all boils down to bragging rights. The only reason anyone wants to break a world record is so they can say they broke a world record. This is a problem because it shows that students start their academic year with a practice that has inherently no value or meaning and does nothing to prepare them, socially or academically, for what is to come.

At least the ice cream socials and the midnight karaoke and breakfast events give students a chance to meet and interact with people. This world record attempt serves no such purpose and does not deserve a time slot in orientation week.

An easy solution to the arbitrariness of this activity would be to simply leave it up to the student body to break the record themselves, without the direction of someone else. It would be an admittedly trying task for a group of 3,000 individuals to arrange themselves in the correct order to create any sort of image, but, even if they failed, they would have experienced teamwork and some degree of cooperation and interaction with one another.

Another idea is to abandon the world record attempt altogether and focus that energy into events that actually promote bonding. This could be more of the ice cream social types of events, where people are lured in by the promise of free food and stay for the conversation that sparks in the midst of receiving it.

This bonding could also be sought through games like the glow-in-the-dark Frisbee event. Nothing promotes cooperation and the bonding that comes with being on a team like field games.

Pretty much any setting that actually promotes cooperation or social interaction would be fit for orientation week. The pointless world record attempt should undoubtedly be replaced with an event that actually brings students together in more than just a physical sense.

Write to Adrianne at adg79@pitt.edu

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The annual world record: Not necessary for O-week