At Kenyon, everyone picks up their mail from the Gambier post office — flagpole outside, Depression-era lobby, brass key for your mailbox, the whole nine yards. Purely by coincidence, my P.O. Box was #1824 — a special number in Kenyon lore, as that’s the year our college was founded. As a graduating senior, I wanted to take a moment to pass on some advice to the next student who will get postcards, letters, absentee ballots, care packages and certainly a fair bit of junk mail in that box.
To the Owner of P.O. Box 1824:
Congrats, you got the best four-digit number available at the Gambier post office. My name is Ethan, and I have just graduated from Kenyon. For four years, I carried around the same key you have just received, and I have some advice for you as your predecessor in box 1824.
First, it’s vitally important that you meet the people of Gambier. Get on this as soon as possible. The post office is a wonderful spot to start. As you check your box every week, you’ll notice the faces of the workers and other residents becoming more familiar. Do your best to put names to those faces. If you’re going to live in a village, you may as well commit to being a villager. Beyond the post office, there’s a knitting group that meets in the Bookstore on weekday evenings and a coffee group that meets in the nook with couches at Wiggin Street almost every morning. Go say hi; they love meeting students.
There’s a lot of planning that goes into your freshman year, and I understand that the scheduling of your life may be a stressful subject. However, I strongly encourage you to find a way to stay on campus for a Kenyon summer after your freshman or sophomore year. Kenyon is peak love-able over the summer. Without homework, you’ll find yourself throwing a frisbee around with someone you’ve seen a hundred times but never talked to. No one comes out of a Kenyon summer without new friends. If you want to walk down Middle Path in the morning, you’ll have the whole thing to yourself. Other recommended activities include the First Friday Festivals and Saturday morning farmers market in Mount Vernon, group pot-luck dinners, hammocking in the pine grove and jumping into the pond near the quarry down the Gap Trail (you’ll see a gate to a grassy trail halfway between the KAC and Zion Road).
Any graduating senior can tell you how much Kenyon is a-changing. The culture of any college campus is created by the students. The activities that were available to me are different from what you will find on campus because the people organizing the events I went to have graduated. If you want there to be a cool music scene on campus, start a band and help organize Horn Gallery concerts. If you want theater to flourish, go to the shows. You’ll soon realize just how fluid campus life is, and I hope you learn how to meaningfully contribute to that fluidity. Just as well, if you see our administration hindering aspects of student life you appreciate, say something about it. The only thing keeping Kenyon from being boring is the students.
Lastly, be intentional with your time, as you only get so much of it. Academically, Kenyon is tough. You’re going to spend a lot of your time studying. In that regard, each semester will be different. If you really want to milk college for what it’s worth, think hard about how you want to spend the time when you aren’t studying. My junior year was tough as nails, both in and out of the classroom. I was in the Science Quad every night until at least midnight. The window in the room where I study faces Middle Path, which has benches about every 50 yards. You often see students reading on them when the weather is nice.
I have a good friend, named Birhanu, who would sit on the bench outside the window of my study spot, rain or shine, until midnight or so. Even though I was buried in biochemistry homework, I tried to sit with him on the bench at least once or twice a week for a few minutes. I mulliganed biochemistry in the end (meaning I dropped the course later than you’re typically allowed to), and while doing so I thought hard about how I could have possibly found more time to study for the class. Even in that moment of failure, I would not have traded time sitting with my friend on the bench. The decision to walk away from work for a little bit was intentional and important. I hope you find a way to strike an intentional balance. It will serve you well.