During the last few months of high school, my class was looking for an inspirational motto to graduate with. We decided on Confucius’ saying: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” This saying seemed to be so vital at the time of graduation, which also marked a new, unknown beginning looming somewhat near on the horizon. The saying instantly found its place in my mind, but I would not have remembered it today if I had not noticed a notepad at a tag sale with a beautiful inscription of Confucius’ saying on the cover. I immediately bought the notepad (for a few cents) because I felt it would represent something meaningful to me throughout my life. The inspirational motto is now in my room, on my desk, behind a bunch of textbooks. It’s nice to have it on my desk, but I wonder how much of it I carry in my heart. “Did I come to Williams with all my heart?” was my first question to myself. “I am sure I did,” was a quick and confident response.
I came to Williams via a series of international flights and stressful layovers. Instead of stepping onto American soil in Albany, N.Y., as intended, I began my visit to the U.S. in its capital, Washington, D.C. Unpredictable, scary, totally uncomfortable, but altogether a crucial precursor for my new experiences at Williams. I could not wait to arrive in the Purple Valley. And the peak of my joy was the moment when I entered “the dwelling of the gallant and the free,” – the student center, Paresky. I remember rushing through the doors with a confused look, addressing the staff from Dining Services and hearing a voice call from the back: “Are you Nini?” I turned, saw a girl who was looking at me from the back of the hallway and replied, “Yes!” That was the beginning of my life at Williams. If I were asked to provide a detailed account of my orientation days for a school archive, I would do so with pleasure. However, I am not going to linger on the details, as that would definitely bore you, but I will tell you about a few things that I found impressive and comforting in my new home.
First, a smile. Many of you may take this for granted; after all, it is “normal” for people to smile at each other, but for me, it was a reason to be impressed. A smile makes a difference, and an honest smile makes a huge difference. It is a joy to say hello to people every day and hear them saying hello back to you, to smile at them and see them putting feeling into their smile. I don’t take smiling faces for granted. Previously, I rarely met them. Now, I meet them every day, and they show me how special this place is, how welcoming and inclusive.
Second, the “Stop, Look, Wave “ notice on the crosswalk. This was a nice discovery for me when I first paid close attention to the road. In the beginning, I felt uncomfortable seeing all the cars stopping and waiting for me to cross the street. Once, I stopped and they stopped, too, and there was already a traffic jam forming when I realized I had to wave to them and run quickly to the other side. I got accustomed to this and learned how to wave while crossing the street as safely as possible.
Third, the people. I have met many people here with a truly contagious passion for something – be it art, science, teaching, learning or any other type of service. People who love what they do and go to their jobs every day, with all their hearts. People to whom other people matter. People who are able to listen carefully and be empathetic. People are the backbones of any institution, especially of colleges where a process of exploration and mutual dialogue is taking place. Now I understand why the Williams community is so keen on repeating the mantra “take care of each other.” People are the most precious parts of Williams.
Back to my initial question: Am I here with all of my heart? I cannot imagine being somewhere else – I want to be here. I want to be part of this marvelous community that impresses me more every day. I believe I am here with all my heart and with an accompanying inner voice that each day says louder and louder: I am Williams!
Nini Arshakuni ’17 is from Tbilisi, Georgia. She lives in Williams Hall.