First days, last days

I was ready to rush headlong into college. I had finally managed to zip up my overflowing suitcases, I had made extensive pro and con lists before deciding which classes to take, my Skype account was up and running and all the relics of my former life – framed photographs and little trinkets – had been crammed into unwieldy duffel bags. Everything was perfectly arranged to make the transition seamless, and I was prepared to immerse myself in all the wonders and opportunities I’d been anticipating for so long. Nothing stood in my way.

First Days changed all that. Everything skidded to a halt. All the eagerness and apprehension, all my preconceptions about college life, vanished. Despite my preparation, the transition was jarring and time seemed to freeze. For the past week, I’ve lived in a suspended reality. At first a burden, this eventually became a blessing.

Initially, I viewed First Days as a tedious preamble to the infinitely more rewarding chapter of college life. I had the intention of skimming superficially through First Days because there is something inherently frightening about transitions and I habitually seek to avoid them. The schedule of First Days allowed for no such tactic. I was instantly forced to stop, reflect and re-evaluate both myself and my new home. There were no didactic speeches, no warnings or threats, but simply kind advice, a warm glow of community and an outstretched hand from everyone I met. Professor [of English] Bernie Rhie’s speech to the Class of 2015 was especially touching and beautiful, and I realized that every obstacle, no matter how great or unexpected, can eventually be surmounted.

First Days taught me that we have an extensive support system that sweeps all throughout campus and far into the depths of Williamstown. I was reassured by faculty and students alike that although college life was unpredictable, and no amount of preparation would fully equip us to face it, this unpredictability was the very quality that would enrich our lives most. I decided to change one of my classes, even after all of my pro and con lists.

In the whirlwind of organized activities and new information, every moment was interminably long, every experience stretched out. A bunch of strangers, my entrymates, were lumped together and forced to endure awkward silences and uncomfortable, stilted conversations. At first, there was a canned sequence of questions that was always posed – “What’s your name? Where are you from? What classes are you taking?” After the lackluster inquiries, there was silence. Twenty-two people sat in our entry’s common room and couldn’t conceive of a single additional question to ask or conversation thread to embark upon.

When we returned from our Ephventures, the tenuous friendships we’d made during the day were tested as we tried to decide what to do with our free time; people lingered, not wanting to simply go to their dorm rooms and appear anti-social, but not wanting to be presumptuous enough to invite themselves over to another person’s dorm. I would have preferred more activities to be crammed into the Ephventures, because the moments were so long, so lingering, and we were all very curious, like sponges ready to absorb and reflect on any experience that was tossed our way.

But I am grateful now for all the cramped gatherings, full of embarrassment and hesitation. My entry has become so close that whether we are occupying ourselves by talking or playing board games or learning about each other’s lovable quirks or engaging in serious intellectual conversations or laughing about nothing at all, a deep sense of contentment settles over us. I’m grateful that neither classes nor warning speeches marred the long and varied process of adjusting. I love my entry and JAs, and wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything in the world.

In these long, memorable moments of First Days, when the future was put on hold, when every minute was pregnant with reflection and change and excitement and fear, and all possibilities spanned before me, I stopped rushing and started paying closer attention. College was not only wonderful because of the experience as a whole, but because of individual moments that are inspiring and valuable in and of themselves.

I’ve come to see First Days not as the “first days” of the school year, nor as an introduction to the academic milieu of the College, but rather as the last days of our summer. Up until the time class started, people have described Williams not as a college, but as a protracted camp experience, replete with counselors and trips, laughter and awkwardness. We were not students, but a family – beloved by the Williams community.

Now that classes have begun and we’ve slid into the routine of college, life is accelerating, but now I want to cling to every moment. It’s already going by too fast. People are already branching out and going their separate ways. But the connections we formed during the drawn-out experiences of First Days have remained intact, and when we reconvene in our common room, or support each other’s various pursuits, we are once again a family.

In this slow, frightening, exhilarating, slightly mystical, mysterious and incredible form of suspended reality, First Days slowed the passing of the golden days of summer. And it has set the tone for the life that is about to begin.

 

Becky Tseytkin ’15 is from New York, N.Y. She lives in Armstrong,