Sitting in Chalmers, I watch as a prospective student touring Kenyon walks past me. The tour guide is talking to the student and their dad about the events that are happening all the time, and how campus life is vibrant. It makes me smile—I can relate to the experience of both the wise tour guide and the wide-eyed prospective student. Not only do I give tours, but I also help run the tour guide program as a Co-Head Tour Guide. In the last two weeks I have added a new experience that I can talk about when giving tours as I attended the events at the Center for Study of American Democracy (CSAD): the John Adams Colloquium and its Biennial Conference, the latter being the first since the pandemic.
While I enjoyed The Tyranny of Merit by Micheal Sandel (suggested reading for the Colloquium), the event itself was what made it special. After listening to a few speeches, the room divided into small groups to discuss the book. As one of the handful of students in the room, I felt nervous about fitting into a group. A staff member I knew welcomed me into the group that my faculty advisor was in along with another professor and a local resident. The conversation was refreshing. Listening to my group made me consider what it means to live in a meritocratic society—I was not talking with other college students, but a group of adults who have a different view of life than me.
When I was looking at colleges, listening to people talk about community had become a well-worn cliché by the time I visited Kenyon for the first time in January of my senior year. But once I arrived on campus, I found that the community was not a cliché. Rather, it was made up of genuine people who cared about students.
After our discussion about the role of meritocracy in contemporary society, the group headed off-campus to the Alcove in Mount Vernon for dinner. Before the meal was served, people milled about continuing to discuss the book, ordering drinks, snacking on cheese and crackers, etc. I talked to my advisor for a while, and other students. Just like talking to my professors after class, the things we chatted about flowed naturally, like the rolling hills around Gambier.
I remember driving with my dad up and down those hills on the way to visit Kenyon for the first time. The rest of the day seemed to be a blur, except for the reception at the end. I was in the Norton Room in Ransom Hall, talking to an admissions counselor. As we were talking, another student joined into the conversation with me and my dad. The next thing I know my dad is talking to one of the students, while I am in a whole separate conversation with two admissions counselors and a bunch of students. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I remember drinking a soda and holding an empty plate. I was afraid to leave to refill on cheese and crackers, because if I left the group, the conversation might fizzle.
Four years later, I was again carrying a plate of chips and crackers. This time, talking to faculty, staff, and students, I was not afraid of losing a conversation. The Kenyon community will always allow you to join their discussion, I realized. So I left the conversation to go get a drink.