Apathy makes all Williams students alike

Well there is no typical Williams student, of course, but we all know

what one wears. Jeans, a baseball cap, and fleece. There is no typical

Williams student, but it is not hard to say what one does. “He’s a smart

jock,” said one of our freshmen when we asked, “who works when he needs

to and is drunk the rest of the time.” (“Yeah,” said everyone else in

the room.) College guidebooks basically concur. Williams students work

hard and play hard and party hard.Though there is no typical Williams

student, we all know how to criticize one. Just shake your head and

sigh, “Apathy.” The typical Williams student is famously apathetic, and

the typical Williams student lives in a bubble which is not just any old

bubble but is, embarrassingly, tinted purple.So perhaps it is a good

thing that, in addition to his other characteristics, the typical

Williams student does not exist. Though we all know what one is, we are

not it, and nor are our friends. We might have seen one once; but we

would not say that it is a wide-spread phenomenon, this being a typical

Williams student.Why, then, does this figment of our collective

imagination exist, and what sort of truth does it express? What does it

have to do with us?It seems to express, on the one hand, the huge amount

of potential which we see in each other. The Williams student who can

work hard and play hard and party hard is to be admired for her

capabilities. She is usually thought of as not looking like she is

trying while she gets everything right. She usually has secret talents–

no one on the basketball team knows she’s a concert pianist, no one he

parties with knows he also writes poetry. This version of the typical

Williams student can serve as a frightening ideal to which we compare

ourselves. This is the typical Williams student we have in mind when we

worry, each to our own degree, that we are not managing everything quite

right. We should be able not just to achieve but to balance everything,

and with a nonchalance that implies it comes naturally. This is the

typical Williams student to be a bit jealous of, a bit awed by, a bit

proud of.It does not take much of a shift in perspective, however, for

this to become the typical Williams student we scoff at. In fact, it is

hard to imagine anyone saying “We work hard and play hard,” with a

straight face. It sounds too much like bad advertising. A Williams

student reading it from a guidebook would have to sound at least a

little sardonic. Alternation between working hard and playing hard

suggests a certain lack of complexity, creativity, or consideration; it

suggests constant activity never tripped up by self-doubt or

inspiration.Our idea of a typical Williams student is an expression of

the potential we recognize in the student body, but also of our

frustration at how that potential is used. It is in part the frustration

which is inherent in high expectations. Every Williams student comes

here expecting a lot from himself, the high school overachiever; from

his new peers, fellow overachievers; from the school, one of the most

prestigious in the nation; and from his college years, supposed to be

more vital than all of the rest, and the ones in which everything

becomes clear. Adjusting to the reality of the situation is unsettling.

It includes, for one thing, adjusting to irreality. College is not the

real world, particularly college for the elite in a small valley in

Massachusetts. This school is isolated, and it is small. It also,

reality of realities, has classes, and you have to go to them, and they

take up a lot of your time and energy though their rewards can seem

intangible. We often criticize the typical Williams student for all of

the things he doesn’t do; but for our own part, we know we don’t have a

lot of time to do much more. We defend ourselves against too many

commitments. We are disappointed by things. We sometimes see more of

potential than of its successful realization.We should not be too hard

on ourselves; our expectations are high, and after all, this is school.

We are all learning. On the other hand, we should not be too easy on

ourselves. Why do we think of the typical version of us as uninspired or

less-than-thoughtful? If we are not doing the things we could do, if we

are not being who we could be, why not? We need to take some

responsibility instead of pinning everything on the typical Williams

student and on his purple bubble. Finally, though, we should allkeep and

be glad for the perceptiveness and the cheerful but biting sense of

humor which allow us to see the laughable and criticizable figure in the

very ideal we model ourselves after, and which is a model of us.