Senior reflections: Jeff McMahon

It doesn’t seem right to be writing my reflections of my college career because it honestly seems like I just got here (they don’t call them cliches because they’re not true). I am fully aware that four long years have passed since I first saw Williams, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that I came over the hill from the Taconic State Parkway, with a view of this campus with a highway running through the middle of it. (Note to self: After first billion is made, pay to reroute Route 2 to less annoying place.)

I didn’t know much about Williams when I applied, and I decided to come here almost arbitrarily, thanks to the mysteries of the financial aid process. I didn’t have any relatives who went here, and I don’t think I had ever heard of Williams before my junior year of high school – the name doesn’t stick in the mind as firmly as the more colorful and aristocratically named “Swarthmore” or “Amherst.” But despite knowing very little about the place, I’m pretty happy with my choice.

One has to differentiate between the two Williamses: one is the college itself, not perfect but still pretty good. I had a strong sense of culture shock my freshman year, because of the sudden expansion of my mental universe: whole classes were being taught about authors and theorists I had never heard of before. As I look forward to life after college, I wonder how much dumber will I get as I continue into the outer world?

Despite all the College’s promotions involving tradition and history, the key to a good education is talented professors, and Williams has some pretty amazing ones. I won’t ignore the professors who haven’t been so good: the ones afraid of student interaction, the ones who force students to buy their textbooks every year to pad their wallets or the ones who are simply full of themselves. However, it’s more important to recognize the professors who have made a difference in my time here: the ones who have opened my eyes, who have provoked me to see the world in different ways. These have tended to be the professors who know that the time they spend here is more than just a job; it’s a position of honor and duty: the duty to take young minds and make them better than they were at the beginning of the semester. To those professors who succeed in their mission, I am grateful.

The other Williams is the place where we spend four years of our lives, and that hasn’t been too bad either. A college is truly a strange place: where else do you see hundreds or thousands of 18-22 year olds together, pretending to be grownups within the protected confines of the halls of academia? Williamstown is a little remote, something of a pain to get to and from when your home is two thousand miles away. But in a way the College’s isolation is a blessing, because there’re always plenty of things to do on campus. Indeed, as I look back, my strongest regrets have to do with all the things I couldn’t do because there just wasn’t enough time: all of the concerts, plays, and speakers, and of course, all the various parties that I just didn’t have the time or inclination to visit.

If you’re reading this article for advice, here’s the closest thing you’ll get: don’t take your ordinary activities too seriously, whether it’s college or high school or work. I imagine very few seniors graduate wishing they had spent more time studying. Nothing is so important that you can’t have some lazy fun in the meantime. I know that it’s not exactly an original or profound statement, but then they can’t all be. Sometimes we need reminders.

Anyway, one of the reasons why it seems that so little time has passed in the last four years is because not a lot has really changed about me, and I would assume it’s the same with most graduates. High school was stressful not only because of all the schoolwork we did, but also because we were still growing physically and emotionally, and because most of us had a singular goal in mind: to get into a good college. We expect the four years of college to be similarly turbulent. Speaking personally, college has been easier. There’s more time to probe intellectually, to find out what kind of person you really are, when you’re uprooted from your home of eighteen years. Not needing to worry about the SATs helps too (sorry, Law and Med students). With all of its ups and downs, college for me has been a place to learn more, not only about history and literature, but about myself, and how to deal with life as a whole. I can’t say that I’m a lot closer to any kind of answers about things, but I can say that it’s been an amazing trip so far. Thanks, Williams.