The value of vacation

You wake up and your brain is an electrochemical flashbulb. Pieces of the room slowly come together through bleary blinks. This is not your dorm room. This is summer. And it’s weird.

Williams is a difficult place to attend if you want to do the bare minimum. You end up putting in about three to five hours less than it would take for an ‘A,’ but feel worse about doing so in the end. Therefore, we go into hyper-drive. If we didn’t, we would burn out from lack of accomplishment (the disease of a bored Eph). Because we do, we burn out from over-accomplishment (the disease of a weary Eph). At the end of the year, we run a metal detector over the charred remains of our lifestyles and assess what we gained that glimmered and was, in fact, gold. Which all-nighters were worth it? Which new friends were loyal? What projects made a difference? We assess. Then, we leave.

Some of us accept coveted internships, others venture to research laboratories and still others return home. This piece is not about “what I did over summer break.” It is about what summer break means for a Williams student. We work without interruption for months on end, with a back-breaking peak at the final finals week of the year, forming a graph of our efforts that looks like Justin Bieber’s hair in profile. How strange it is to go from that level of electrified hustle to skimming a sun-bleached paperback. Maybe this shift is better articulated as unsettling rather than strange. Strangeness implies that we don’t know what we’re doing. We do know what we’re doing – but it freaks us out. We all look forward to summer as a well-deserved break, then immediately miss the late-night conversations and the over-clocked camaraderie as the internship-, research- and pecuniary-induced lollygagging begins.

Whether you’re pipetting solutions you can barely pronounce, eagerly observing the Eurozone calamity in a suit you just bought or teaching summer campers about heatstroke, a Williams summer is different. Either you’re doing something that looks extremely impressive on a resume, or you’re doing something that matters to you personally or you’re getting paid. Even better, some of you are doing the holy trifecta of a personally important resume-builder with a blushworthy paycheck. (But if you are, please don’t tell us.)

I can’t accuse any of you of slouching, although surely some of you feel like you didn’t do anything this summer. Spending a year grinding for grades and solidifying social networks tends to make any break feel laced with guilt, either for not taking enough of a rest or for taking too much of a rest. To quantify these levels of necessary work would be an anxiety-laden misstep, so let’s qualify them instead.

Is a Swiss Army knife any less of a Swiss Army knife when acting as a corkscrew? Our minds need rest and redirection. If you had an internship, it was likely far different from a microeconomics seminar. If you did research, it was likely far different from an organic chemistry lecture. If you worked at a local summer camp, it was likely far different from anything in the Purple Valley at all. If change is good, then a return to doing the important things after a change is even better. Of course, we are more than the things we do. Of course.

Can it all boil down to the grass always being greener? The feelings you had during dead week are no less true than the feelings you had during June, just like the feelings you had about LMFAO last year are no less true the feelings you have about LMFAO this year. Our perspectives shift and comparisons of these shifts yield valuable insights. Yes, we can get bored during the summer. Yes, we can get overworked during the school year. But the reason why these things occur should make us grateful for what we have: an educational experience offered to few and coveted by many. Getting to call oneself a purple cow is just a perk. Welcome and welcome back.


Gabriel Stephens ’15 is from Kendallville, Ind. He lives in Carter.

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