What Williams gave me

I can’t donate enough money to pay back what Williams has given me. I don’t mean in terms of financial aid, a book grant or my work study job. Beyond these tangible privileges that I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from as a college student in the U.S., I have been lucky enough to say that the past four years have changed my life, and changed it for the better at that. At Williams, I learned how to think.

Four years ago, I considered myself a thinker. I thought I was breaking boundaries because I had begun to bitterly question the social and political climate of my predominantly white, conservative upper middle class high school. I thought because I had read some Keats and opted out of both prom and the lunchtime cafeteria scene that I was an individual in my own right. That I was unique. But I wasn’t. And I may not be now. (I’m probably not.) Yet, what does mark a difference between my modus operandi then and now is the gap between image and understanding. Four years ago, I defined myself entirely by my actions, especially actions that I believed to be representative of how I thought I should think. But I think that since then, I have also come to define myself not by what I believe should resonate with me, but with what actually does resonate with me, even if what resonates with me seems contradictory. I can both participate in my contemporary metaethics class and watch reality television later that afternoon; I can dance around my room and give a thesis presentation; I can have a social life and opt out of Friday night at Goodrich. It’s liberating.

I should clarify what I mean when I say that I learned how to think: At Williams, I have begun to learn not only how to synthesize concepts, but also how to effectively and elegantly understand the world (obviously, this is an ongoing and inherently incomplete process). But I want to sum up what I’ve learned at Williams (or at least try to) in four different categories – though one thing I’ve learned is that categories do not always do an idea justice. Oh well:

1. Loss and waste are not permanently crippling. When people ask me what my biggest fear is, I say loss, or waste, because I believe that loss and waste underscore most fears. And I know that in my own life, my most fearful, panicked moments have stemmed from loss and waste – death, loss of love, waste of potential, the notion of how we as a society, a country and a world misappropriate resources that could otherwise benefit humanity. This semester I read Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, and I started to reconceptualize how I understood loss. I started to recover from my own losses; I started to rethink my own decisions, seeing them not as finite, actualized choices through which I have spent – and therefore decreased – my potentiality in life, but rather as potentialities in themselves, as stepping stones on the greater path of my life’s trajectory. If Stoppard’s Thomasina Coverly can discover the second law of thermodynamics before dying in a fire, if I can accidentally delete 12 pages on Ulysses and then recover my ideas, if I can be held back in pre-school and graduate from Williams, if I can love again, if I can panic and then sit up and go to class, then I can also work with like-minded others to salvage loss and waste elsewhere.

2. I can’t stop or slow time, but nor can I outrun it. Because both freezing and escaping time are impossible and because I can’t sit still, inaction is simply not an option. I have Sartre to thank for the fact that I’m no longer as afraid as I once was to make decisions – to choose what kind of paper I’m going to write, whether I care what so-and-so thinks or what I’m doing next year. My mom always used to tell me to go with the flow. Now that I’m starting to live for myself, I’m also starting to understand what that means.

3. Connective perspectivism, or relativism with a cause, is not so dangerous. I can only think with my mind, see through my eyes, understand from my vantage point. But the point is that we all have our own mind, eyes and vantage point, so we can still communicate. Whether we’re athletes or musicians or writers, we’re all here trying to accomplish something. We’re all trying to make connections, whether we like it or not. We do it across Route 2 all the time: Is there really that much difference between relativity and a novel with multiple narrators? I don’t think so.

But of course, I’m still learning. I could be wrong. That’s okay. I’m learning how to love myself anyway. I’m learning how to walk the tightrope between identity and individuality, between potential and actual, between idiosyncrasy and communication, between loss and discovery. At this point, I have Williams to thank for what I’ve learned, but maybe in 10 years, if I’m lucky, I’ll look back at myself and write again.

Taylor Bundy ’13 is an English and philosophy double major from Lancaster, Penn. She lives in Brooks.