When I came to Williams, I was a complete and total idiot. I made inane comments in class at a record rate, spent three to four hours a day watching episodes of South Park and made very few real friends. Seriously, I’ve been looking through an online thesaurus for about 20 minutes now, and I have no choice but to conclude that the English language does not contain words that adequately describe just how much I sucked.
Most damning of all, though, I just did not appreciate what I had in Williams College. It sounds cliché, but I felt like I should have been feeling happy and complete and yet I felt exactly the opposite. I loved this place, but I wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to make the most of my experience. Only now, in the fall of my junior year, have I finally begun to take advantage of what the College has to offer. Thanks to a painful (and ongoing) process of trial and error, I’m beginning to see the College in bright shades and hues rather than a musty gray.
The sad thing is, though, you probably suck too – even if it’s only to a tiny degree. I can say with absolute certainty that there is at least one tiny thing about the College that you haven’t come to appreciate, and in most cases, it’s because no one ever told you this one tiny thing exists. I don’t want you to fall prey to the same problems that afflicted me; everyone deserves the opportunity to get as much out of this place as they possibly can.
Here are a few of my own suggestions:
1. Explore Williamstown and the surrounding area. If you have a free afternoon – or even just a couple of hours to burn – find a friend and just walk away from campus for an hour or so. Disregard street signs entirely and let yourself take in the smell of the air and the colors of the leaves until you’ve gotten yourself completely and hopelessly lost. I don’t usually wax poetic about anything, but I think that every inch of the Berkshires could be the inspiration for a painting or a song or the thesis of an academic paper. The area where we live stirs your soul, but you have to get off your couch to know that.
2. Do something different on a Friday night. I love First Fridays as much as the next guy, but sometimes too much of a good (and by good I mean aggressively hedonistic) thing can be a bad thing. Put down your Long Trail IPA and pick up a board game. Toss aside the Xbox controller and talk to your buddies. Take a midnight swim in the river or research political controversies involving the Teletubbies on Wikipedia. Write something. Draw something. You were smart enough to get into Williams; you can definitely figure something out.
3. Give someone a compliment. Not a grade-mongering, professor-you’re-so-amazing compliment, but a real one. I have a friend in the sophomore class (who shall remain nameless) who walks around campus and says hi to everyone he’s ever met every time he sees them. But oftentimes, he’ll add something along the lines of “I like your sweater.” People are usually taken aback by my friend’s candor, but they invariably say thank you and smile in happy embarrassment. I’m not a fan of the whole “Williams is a community and let’s all love each other mandatorily or else” rhetoric that people have been tossing around lately, but I do support a culture of positivity.
4. Walk up Stone Hill and look out at Williamstown. I can’t go into more detail about this one – you’ll understand why it’s so awesome when you get there.
5. Go to an athletic event, particularly one you wouldn’t otherwise consider attending. (I would suggest attending a soccer game, for a couple of reasons: Cole Field offers one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. You get to watch the world’s most beautiful game in the world’s most beautiful place.) But whichever sport you choose, there’s something deeply fulfilling about going to a game and supporting the College. You might never have met any of the people on the field, but you’re still rooting for them – and most importantly, you’re taking time out of your day to watch them play.
6. Take a professor to a Lyceum Dinner. You’re being given the option to go to dinner with some of the most insightful people in the world. For free. When I went last spring, I had a two-hour-long discussion about concussions, politics and fraternities … with my art history prof. There were moments when all four of us were extremely uncomfortable and moments when all four of us were laughing hysterically, which I take to mean the dinner was a success. Don’t miss out.
I want to be totally clear – I don’t know any more about this place than you do. And it’s not as if there’s some official checklist of things you need to do to feel personally fulfilled before you graduate because that would miss the point entirely. But I would feel deeply remiss if I did not take the time to emphasize that, one, Williams College is awesome, and, two, we won’t be here forever, so you ought to enjoy the hell out of this place while we can.
Taylor Halperin ’14 is a political science and history double major from Seattle, Wash. He lives Mark Hopkins.