In the checkout lane

When I was a first-year, I was awed by the air of detachment given off by the seniors I knew. They were, in the simplest sense of the word, cool: stoic regarding the sketchiness of parties, unfazed by all-campus e-mails from the dean and uninterested in social rituals or intellectual events that I thought were going to make or break my college experience. They either knew what they were going to do with their lives, which impressed me, or they did not know and seemed not to care, which impressed me even more. I looked at those seniors and decided that I would need to spend four years cultivating that air of detachment. Despite my goal, all the shiny lights of Williams were flashing and, like a moth (or a city kid), I could not help but zoom from the one to the other. I discovered my Eph-self and did lots of Williams-y Things, some of which I liked and some I did not.

Third year I got back on track with my plan to get cool. I did my best to alienate the first-years I knew, believing that the root of all coolness was picking apart all the naivete of the noobs. I shied away from new Williams Experiences since I did not want to end up in some situation that made me look fresh, interested or undirected. I thought I was doing everything I should to get closer to cool, but I got the nagging feeling that I was just acting like a big asshole. To further my confusion and frustration, those students who I had first met when they were sophomoric sophomores were now cool seniors. Some of them were, in my so humble opinion, not much more grown up than I was, so why was it that they were blessed with the supreme gift of coolness and I was left awash with self-doubt?

My pick group was lucky enough to snag a co-op (Woodbridge) for this year, and for the first time at school I was going to live with my close friends. I have love for all of them, and I was excited that I could contain my love in a box called a “house” (not a “dorm,” which is the name for a box from which love seeps out through the cracks). Since my inner social circle was all in one place, I quickly forgot the world outside. (The arrangement was mostly mutual, since I am convinced that the majority of Williams students have no idea where Woodbridge House is.) I had so much fun inside that doing new Williams-y Things outside became less and less important.

A few weeks ago I read a list of “Things to Do before You Leave” compiled by three ’09ers that was a feature on the Williams Web site. Some things I had done and was glad to have done (e.g., go cross-country skiing, start a new club, fellowships, see WCMA’s copies of the American founding documents), other things I had done and would not have missed (e.g., play broomball, participate in a psych study, go to Spring Fling) and the rest I had not done and did not care to (e.g., go golfing, eat at Morty’s house, study abroad). If I had seen this list as a first-year, I think I would have printed it out and religiously fulfilled its requirements. As a senior, I just didn’t agree with it. Mentally compiling my own version of the list, I filed “getting the senior coolness” in the haven’t-done-and-don’t-care category. Just then Lao Tzu swooped in and hit me on the head: I had checked out, and I didn’t care about coolness, and not caring is exactly what made those seniors cool to me.

It’s not that those seniors looked back on their time at Williams the way I look back on my time at high school (like an unstoppably bad hookup), since many of them held nostra alma mater Collegium Gulielmum close to their hearts. They were just moving on, taking the important bits with them, leaving the silly minutiae behind. Now, in senior spring, the checkout lane, I am finally able to do what I hope to do for the rest of my life: carry my friends, my lessons and my passions close to my heart and just forget all the other stuff. In this sense I am glad that I have left things from the ’09ers list unchecked. It lets me be sure that my Williams experience was not The Williams Experience. I have made Williams mine and not let Williams make me its, as Williams seems to have a way of doing.