“Why Williams?” is one of the better questions you can ask a freshman. It begins to chip away at the surface, past the hometown and course list. It tries to find the person beneath the small talk, even if it does sound like an essay prompt.
To some extent, cut and dry answers are what you’ll get: I liked the campus, it’s a nice area, it has a good ranking. But then there are other answers, the kind you can’t find in a brochure. For me, it was a lot of reasons. Williamstown is about a six-hour drive away from my home, a far better test of my independence than the other college I was considering 15 minutes away. I had this notion that when I got to college, I would reinvent myself. There was nothing wrong with who I was before, but a fresh start sounded enticing. I decided that I didn’t want to go to college with anyone from my high school. I wanted to make a whole new batch of friends, maybe even try a sport while staying up later than I ever had before, having the time of my life.
This past April, I attended school for a total of 11 days while I visited the schools I’d been accepted to. They were all relatively the same: hosts, good food to show off and classes to attend. But at Williams, there’s one particular instance I can point to that stood out to me as why this was the best place for me.
Arriving for Previews was an extreme exercise in independence. I’ve been on countless planes before, but never once have I set foot on an Amtrak train. Sure, I’ve taken the train to Philadelphia, but that hardly counts considering I was four years old and with my parents. Hustling myself through the New York Penn Station with an unfortunately overpacked suitcase was, to say the least, overwhelming. Yet somehow, it was also exhilarating. I liked the idea of travelling on my own, another adult in the thousands milling around me.
When I finally arrived, having survived the obnoxious woman sitting in the next seat over, I couldn’t have been happier. I had done it! I had gotten myself here, and now it was time for three days of seeing if Williams was where I’d spend my next four years. You may remember that April was unusually cold this past year. Even that didn’t deter me, although it did make the midnight hike miserable. That hike is not why I’m here.
On the second night of my stay, I was taking shelter from the cold inside my host’s common room. I had brought my school laptop and was already fighting with the Wi-Fi here, as I did again just two weeks ago. I gave up, tucked my legs underneath me, and started reading a book. Surrounding me were some of my host’s entrymates, all working on assignments and idly chatting with one another. The way that entry clicked was incredibly appealing to me. They had found a surrogate family, even this far away from home.
At that point, another pre-frosh walked in, and his host began the obligatory introductions. When it came to me, he was surprised to find that I didn’t belong there. In that moment, in my pajamas on the couch of Willy E, I was a Williams student. That was when I knew I wanted to come here. I knew that despite the distance, I would easily find a home here.
So I ran away from home, and ironically I felt more comfortable on that couch than I do now in my entry common room. The unfortunate side of a reason like mine, no matter how charming, is that it colored my expectations for when I actually did arrive. I expected to immediately make friends, to become that new person I had told myself I would. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s been two weeks, and I haven’t changed a bit. I still like to spend time alone, and go to bed before 12, and I haven’t turned into a fitness aficionado who plays a sport or even visits the gym. And right now, I’m faulting myself for it, because I’m the type of person who likes to keep her plans. I’m agonizing over the fact that I don’t see my entry as my family, when I know that two weeks is hardly enough time to make one friend, let alone 20.
Even as I worry that I’ve chosen incorrectly and will never fit in here, I know that’s not true. For instance, about a week ago I saw two students at the academic expo and they both looked a little closer at me before asking: “Did you come to Previews?” I told them yes, and they asked which entry. They both smiled and said, “We were your host’s JAs! We thought we recognized you.”
And that’s why I’m at Williams. Not because I’m far from home, or even that it’s an opportunity to become a new me. I’m here because at Williams, it’s not a faceless sea of people. After just one visit, you will never be forgotten.
Natalie DiNenno ’18 is from King of Prussia, Penn. She lives in Williams Hall.