A breath of fresh air

It is a well-known but seldom-acknowledged fact that we at Williams are classic overachievers. In today’s stiffly competitive day and age, we take it upon ourselves to be not only top-tier students, but athletes, writers, a cappella soloists, political enthusiasts, performers, chefs or – ideally – all of the above. Where other students at other schools measure their college experience by how much free time they have, we seem to find our sense of worth in our erratic sleep cycles and in spreading ourselves among as many activities, committees and special-interest groups as we can handle. This is an attitude that is so utterly entrenched that even when we do have a couple of hours to spare, we sometimes find ourselves searching for a task that should be occupying us. As an experience I had last week showed me though, sometimes it’s important to look around and put things in perspective.

As I took a seat with a few entrymates among the Paresky dinner crowd last Tuesday, the conversation was in the familiar and inevitable “how-much-work-do-I-have-to-do-today” phase, with my companions setting impressive standards – a midterm and a mountain of reading here, a research paper there, a theater production to write and produce at the far end of the table. Not to be outdone, I quickly pitched in my two upcoming midterms and a problem set that I hadn’t started, drawing the usual sympathetic sounds typically awarded such disclosures, when I was accosted with a somewhat unexpected request.

“Come for a run with me, man!” I turned to see another friend, apparently awaiting my consent. My mind raced, searching for a suitable excuse (too much work? not true – too tired? he probably hadn’t slept the previous night – too cold? it was 85 outside) but drawing blank after blank.

“Come on man, just 15 minutes – you’ll feel great after, I promise.” I hesitated for a couple more seconds, silently weighing the costs and benefits, and gave in.

We departed, making our way up Route 2 past the Inn, past Garfield and the softball field beside it, past the Clark and finally up Stone Hill. After a not-so-Rocky-esque ascent we found ourselves at the top of the hill, but instead of turning straight around as planned we stopped, found a perch and sat down, intending initially only to catch our breaths before the trek down.

We lapsed into conversation, talking first about classes and summer plans but moving easily onto sports, The Wire and just life in general. We passed the time talking and laughing, looking around, taking in the budding flora of spring and the deer that moved in the distance. The sun began a lazy descent, accenting the springtime mountainsides, but remembering the long-gone 15 minutes we’d allotted for our run and the work that awaited me, I stood up to leave when my friend hit me with the second unexpected remark of the day.

“Look around, man. This is what we came here for.”

My first impulse was to laugh. After all, on arriving at Williams, my first thoughts had been something along the lines that my guidance counselor hadn’t been lying when she said it was out in the middle of nowhere. Even from a typical college student’s perspective, Williams is hardly ideal: demanding coursework, near-total isolation and what at times seems like a nonexistent social scene. Even from where I was standing, I couldn’t see any one thing in particular that offset those realities; I simply brushed the comment off and watched the sun set in the distance.

Still, as we made our way down the Hill and back onto campus, his words dug at me. As far as I knew, I had come to Williams because of its reputation and the financial aid department’s generosity. What was this mysterious force that had driven my friend to Williams? And more importantly, why couldn’t I feel it? It struck me then that while I hadn’t exactly been looking for the boondocks when I made my decision to leave the mall-filled, traffic-jammed suburb I call home, what I had been looking for – maybe what a lot of us were looking for – was a change of pace at an elite educational institution that could offer more than just top-tier instruction. What I was looking for was an atmosphere that encouraged academic thought as well as individual growth, an environment that could at once isolate me and give me experiences I might never have otherwise, and ultimately, a campus that could give me a unique perspective on things.

By the time we were back on campus, we’d been gone nearly an hour and a half, and as I trudged up the stairs to where my books awaited me, it hit me that somewhere over the course of our jog, maybe even when we were up on Stone Hill looking down on the rest of the purple bubble, I had achieved something special – I had gained some of that precious perspective we are all looking for.

As a freshman nearing the end of his first year at Williams, I can vouch for the fact that regardless of however it is we spend our hours here – studying, sleeping, competing, partying – these four years really will fly by, and before we graduate and leave the purple bubble for whichever corners of the world we will, we should make it a point to take some time to appreciate where we are. After all, whether we realize it or not, it’s what we came here for.

Tom Kuriakose ’12 is from Paramus, N.J. He lives in Mills.