Stop. Before you read any further let me clear something up; this is not a scathing review of the entry system or a plea to end a formative experience in the Williams journey. This is a piece of my story about what it meant to enter the Purple Valley through a different door.
The College does quite a few things really, really well. One of these is welcoming students into her hallowed halls, entries and mountains in a manner that turns a group of strangers into a family nearly overnight. The efficiency with which the College executes this maneuver is evidenced by the fact that in a class of over 550, only 12 spots were left open for transfer students like myself.
I like to think of myself as a person who is neither defined nor limited by the familiar. Despite this, my first night of orientation as a transfer student tops out on my list of most overwhelming experiences of my life. As I walked into Prospect basement that night, just a little too sober for the occasion, I hit a wall of noise, body heat and the sweet and sour smell of Keystone light that I would not come to love, but would come to know and respect. Packed into the common room were faces that I had never seen before. Each one seemed overjoyed to greet friends they hadn’t seen in nearly three months, an eternity of time given that the friends they were seeing again were the same friends with whom they had spent the defining moments of their first year with. These people were my peers, yet in that moment I could not have felt more out of place. I had no entry to reminisce with, no teammates, no WOOLF-mates, no doing-dumb-stuff-at-3-a.m.-on-the-weekend-mates, nor doing-dumb-stuff-at-3-a.m.-every-other-day-of-the-week-mates. That night in Prospect basement, I was not yet part of Williams.
This sounds sad and pretty pathetic, right? It was. If we can back up for a second, I would like to explain something. I left my first attempt at getting a higher education because that’s all it panned out to be – an education. To borrow from the genius of Mark Twain, “don’t let education get in the way of your learning.” Trite? Yes, but to be clear, the extent to which I didn’t take Twain’s advice can be demonstrated by the sheer number of times I got nerd-belled at Butler, Columbia’s main undergraduate library. What makes this even worse is that Butler’s nerd bell goes off at 7:30 a.m., not the relatively humane 2:30. It was a sad existence to say the least.
I came to the College in search of a community that I could feel truly a part of. I find myself as a proud NAF, (that is, non-athletic f**k), climber, Jew, activist and Record contributor. What defines Williams for me is that I can be any and all of these on the same day. I am not required to find a niche that fits me like a glove and I don’t have to tread only within that niche’s boundaries.
At the same time, if you look back at that list of things that define me, you won’t see an entry. Am I sad about that? Yes and no. Living at the College without an entry means that I don’t have a group of people who I have eaten with, slept with and partied with every moment of my first year here. Yet, along with these challenges comes the gift of self-determination; every day I receive the blessing and the curse of having to consider how I can better incorporate myself into the community I have so longed for.
So do I have any advice for would be transfer students – and, in a way, all students? Firstly, realize this: Williams is a college full of unique people. Don’t try to fit into the mold of what you think people want you to be. Act like yourself and people will like you for what you have to offer to the discussion. Secondly, know that it is up to you to make this place your home. Try things with the expectation that some of them won’t work out as planned, but know that sometimes amazing opportunities reveal themselves when you least expect them. Lastly, remember what Mark Twain said. Sure, your time at Williams should focus on your problem sets, papers and seminars. But what creates the community I love is what happens when all of those things are put off until a later hour; when people extricate themselves from the library and interact with others. You came to the College because you wanted to be here. When you feel like an outsider (and you will if you haven’t already), resist the temptation to shrink into the deep dark corners of Sawyer and bury yourself in your work. This is a second chance at finding a home for yourself. All I can say is, don’t miss out because you had reading for psych. Oh, and buy a pair of snow boots: I hear those are important too.
Cole Leiter ’14 is from Raleigh, N.C. He lives in Tyler House.