A new deal

As a first-year student from China, I arrived at Williams College basically a model student: I studied hard, had a plan for the future, never partied, was very cautious and had never taken my shirt off in public. Within a week, I was dancing around random Princeton students wearing nothing but a loincloth fashioned out of shrubs along with the rest of my WOOLF group. College is crazy.

Coming from China, these first few weeks were truly an eye-opener. For the first time, I found myself in incredibly awkward moments – and found myself enjoying them. For the first time, I found myself being impulsive and making wild decisions (Yeah, polar bear swim!). And, most of all, for the first time I found myself experiencing a sense of adventure and discovery. It was as if I had been living life in black and white all along and had suddenly jumped to full-blown high-definition.

Yet, I’m also aware of the fact that these changes clash heavily with my Chinese heritage. Coming from a conservative culture where honor and responsibility are highly valued, I can easily see my actions as being unwise and irresponsible. Actually, when we ambushed Princeton in our loincloth-shrubs, the thing that I was most worried about was that one of my Chinese friends would be among the Princeton students and conclude that I was an eternal disgrace to all of China – and there was no way that I, in my flimsy loincloth-shrub, would be able to defend myself. Back in China, the craziest thing I ever did was try that weird looking glob in the cafeteria, and I was already considered a rebel.

I grew up in a country where studying, earning good grades and eventually getting a good job are the meaning of life. Even when I was in middle school, I would leave for school at 6:30 a.m., take classes all day and get back home at 6:30 p.m. – then I’d start homework. Taking risks were discouraged and, instead, we were educated to be cautious and dignified.

Thus, in typical Chinese fashion, I started college with a simple, but solid plan: I planned on getting good grades and a good job after college, and I was going to devote all my time to achieving that goal.

But in these few weeks, I’ve realized that there’s so much more to life. Listening to one of my WOOLF leaders recall his experience kayaking off of 30-foot waterfalls and watching one of my JAs peacefully “serenade” us along with the rest of the Waterstreeters, I couldn’t help but feel that I’ve been like a person chasing a distant star, never noticing the incredible things right around me: from the gentle grass tickling my feet to the regal splendor of the Berkshires; from the wild activities and the passion of the playing field to the wonderful discoveries in science, in art, in literature, occurring every minute, every second. Life is too beautiful to only focus on any one goal.

One never knows what will end up being important in the future. I remember how Steve Jobs, in his commencement address at Stanford, told the story of how his taking a calligraphy class – a class that didn’t “have even a hope of any practical application” at the time – turned out to be one of his best decisions, forever influencing the way modern computers looked and functioned. Oftentimes, success comes not from the dogged pursuit of a few certain subjects, but rather from the combination of multiple sources of knowledge and inspiration. I feel that this idea lies at the heart of Williams College’s liberal arts education and that we should take this opportunity to fully explore the wide variety that life has to offer.

I’ve also come to realize that the caution and dignity that I used to value so highly really aren’t that great.

Sure, 3000 years ago, back when people would kill each other over a seashell or something, if I made a mistake – I’d probably die. But in our current society, there are not many mistakes that will leave a lasting impact. One could commit a crime or suffer a major injury and still have the opportunity to succeed in the future. By making a lot of mistakes, we will gain valuable experience that may lead to success in the future. As the saying goes: “There are two kinds of people: those that have failed – and those that are going to.” Rarely are there successes that aren’t built upon a foundation of failures.

Coming to Williams has definitely opened my mindset and broadened my perspective – rather than focus solely on grades and getting a job, I’m now determined to take adventures and explore new things. And to those who still might see college as only a springboard to a future job, please look around – life is too colorful to just let it pass.

Donny Huang ’13 is from Beijing, China. He lives in Sage Hall.

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