The Land of Independence and Reality

Nicky Halper


I Love College. I don’t mean to credit Asher Roth with any genius witticisms, but I love college. It took me a little while to realize it, but on the eve of my first month at Colgate, I looked around at the drunkards, the protesters and the crowd nestled in the Barge for poetry and music and felt at home for the first time in a long time.

Between the nightmare of college applications and the utter chaos of pre-orientation preparation, never once did the thought of homesickness cross my mind. It didn’t surface as a topic in counselor sessions, SAT prep classes or summer farewells.

The entire process was geared so heavily toward getting to col­lege that, once I got there, I found myself wholly unprepared for the shining newness that slapped me in the face every time I car­ried my tray from the kitchen of Frank to a table where my only companion was The New York Times. It snuck out of my back­pack and into my skin on Tuesday afternoons, as I laid listlessly in bed after my only class, feeling apathetic about homework and distracting myself from it by counting the number of times my mini-fridge rattled and re-set its hum.

But now that patterns are emerging from the confusion, it’s strange to think that I ever felt out of place. My routine, in its most basic form, is hardly different than what I did at home. I wake up, go to class, eat lunch, go to class, do homework, work out, have dinner and then go to sleep. But, although I’m sinking into a routine, it’s not the familiarity that keeps me contented. It is, in fact, the newness of it all. My brain, which I had thought so well adjusted, trips over the address of “pro­fessor” just like it needs to get used to gender-neutral pro­nouns for gender-neutral people. I don’t know where you went to high school, but there were no in-between bathrooms in my town.

I leave classes not feeling depressed at the waste of an hour or the heaps of superfluous homework weighing down my back­pack, but charged by (can it be?) stimulating discussion and the unashamed desire to learn. For the first time in a long time, I see students that actually want to come to class, and I am one of them. To be honest, homework is still a bit off-putting, but as my classes warm up and delve deeper into their respective topics, I become more enthusiastic about sinking into them. The content of my lessons seem to meld into each other, and I find myself ea­ger to write research papers and to apply my scope of knowledge to real life situations: anthropological theory about the impor­tance of place names applies to the study of King Philip’s war; I’m quoting Kant’s definition of a rational being in my first-year seminar about the world’s failing states; the grammatical frame­work for the verb “to study” in Hebrew helps me to understand the strength of the Jews’ relationship with the Lord. My mind is reeling, and I go to bed exhausted from the effort.

At first, I thought it must be cosmic intervention that brought all of these subjects to the foreground of my doubtful education, but I’ve come to realize that this is what education is supposed to be.

It’s not about studying textbooks of facts and figures that are isolated from every other academic subject, but learning through well-crafted experience and relatability (ok, so Word says this isn’t a word, but I like it) of material.

But it takes effort. Now, we have to work. We have to exert ourselves and study on our own. It’s not that we were all adverse to it in high school (I mean, we got into Colgate, right?), but the prime motivation to work hard then was to get good grades to impress our parents and good colleges. Here, now, it’s all about us.

There is no one to mollycoddle us into studying instead of exercising our new freedom by getting drunk on a Tuesday night with the friends that now live not only in the same town, but on the same floor.

Parents don’t receive report cards every quarter or see the test grades peeking out of our backpacks. For most of us, this is the first time we are independent.

For a while, I grappled with this concept, looked it hard in the face, worried that I hadn’t done enough to prepare for its arrival, but in the end, I accepted it. Why fight the impending adult­hood, the “real world,” for which we pay this place to prepare us?

Why be scared, regretful or wary of the past and all we’re leav­ing behind at home when we have the now to contend with?

To be fair, the volume of activity came as a shock. Coming into all of this work after a lax public school education and a summer on high was daunting, to say the least. And without the usual stringent framework for daily activity, it’s difficult to bal­ance everything on my own shoulders, which sometimes slump precariously under the weight. But it’s just what the doctor or­dered, just the medicine for all the complaining and the ques­tioning and the innocent ignorance that pervaded through too many years.

For a lot of us, this is when life begins in earnest. Take advan­tage of it; live it to the fullest by exercising your humanity and living, not for your grades or for your parents or for your high school sweetheart, but for you, which is the only thing worth living for.

Contact Nicky Halper at [email protected]