I tend to fall out of touch easily and quickly. I love the idea of being totally present, totally aware of the people and things around me and perhaps blissfully ignorant of all the rest. My letters home from sleep-away camp were always few and far between, but my parents, staunch believers in the idea that “no news is good news,” were happy to let me go and exercise some independence. I usually pull some sort of disappearing act in the summer, making myself deliberately incommunicado for a time, going to a remote corner of the world and coming home with stories. It feels good, old-fashioned, right to me and of course, I’m lucky to be able to do it.
So naturally, I saw my choice of college as a similar endeavor. Small, intellectual, beautiful and remote – a perfect and rare combination. I could not wait to ski everyday in the winter and visit alpaca farms and pick apples and skinny dip in the Green River in broad daylight and climb to the tops of mountains to hear people sing – but mostly I could not wait for an excuse to fall out of touch with not only my friends and family, but with the world that I cannot avoid at home in New York. I started getting a news e-mail blast in the morning, but besides that I became ignorant. I lost stride with current events I had been following. I hardly kept up with basketball (even though the Knicks finally shaped up last season). I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even vote in my first presidential election (granted that one was not all my fault; TurboVote is partially to blame). Nonetheless, I was too wrapped up in Williams to care. It felt like a long, drawn out vacation.
All of this didn’t bother me until I spoke to my mom one night in November. Except for a few e-mails from my mom with too many exclamation points and her classic sign-off of “LOL, Mom” (she thinks it means “lots of love”), I hadn’t been in touch with home for a couple of weeks. It was shortly after Hurricane Sandy, and I knew the city had been damaged, but I had no idea how badly. My mom filled me in. People were dying, homes were destroyed, streets were flooded and telephone wires were down. Parts of the city and the shore were legitimate disaster zones. My family was safe and the only loss we suffered was that Mayor Bloomberg cancelled the N.Y. Marathon, which both of my parents were set to run last year. It still shook me, though. I was all of a sudden homesick and ashamed of myself for not knowing what was happening.
My point is that it is so easy for smart, worldly, involved kids to come here and lose their global perspective. Of course, this is a trite statement and of course, it’s not true of everyone, but it certainly was true for me. While I think it is valuable for us to live simply here and basically be college kids, I also think the risk of becoming selfish is high. Frankly, going to a liberal arts college is a selfish venture. I don’t say this to accuse but to be honest. Our time here is overwhelmingly dedicated to focusing on ourselves: our studies and love lives and friendships and futures. It is easy to think small, and in fact, thinking small is largely inevitable. No matter how common this ignorance can be, it is still irresponsible of us to forget the rest of the world. We have clubs, and a new think tank on campus, and newspapers in Paresky, and community service trips and guest lectures – ways to stay connected to our broader communities. This goal must become a higher priority for students here, myself included.
Avery Pagán ’16 is from New York City, N.Y. She lives in Gladden.