Finding New Conversations at Kenyon

Attending my first CSAD conference, four years after my first visit to campus.


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.

“The people at the table were as diverse as my discussion group, prompting yet another rich conversation. Like when I visited Kenyon on that cold, wintery day in January, we sat talking long after the day’s events were finished.”

Caleb Newman '24

At the bar, I struck up a conversation with a Kenyon staff member. As we chatted, people started to sit down at the tables. As I looked for a spot, a staff member invited me over to her table. Four years ago, I never could have imagined being as close to staff members as I was to my professors. The people at the table were as diverse as my discussion group, prompting yet another rich conversation. Like when I visited Kenyon on that cold, wintery day in January, we sat talking long after the day’s events were finished. 

I was sad when I had to leave Gambier to catch a flight back home to Arlington, Virginia. I remember getting home, and telling my mom and sister all about my trip to Gambier. I longed for the opportunity to walk down Middle Path again.

Unlike my visit in the first few days of the 2020 spring semester, I did not have to wait long until the next CSAD event. Six days after the colloquium, I found myself in the brand new Oden Hall Auditorium listening to the keynote talk of the CSAD Biennial Conference. The question and theme this year was “What’s My Dollar Worth? Inflation’s Causes, Consequences and Cures.” Despite being busy with work, I made sure to attend as many events that I could.

 Each speaker taught me something new, like faculty do when they stand in front of the class and engage us in a conversation. This time, however, I was not engaging with authors' writings, but joining in to talk about the problems facing society in real time. After every lecture or panel, there was time to ask questions. I felt lucky to even be in the room, yet alone, to ask a question to an expert who studies the economy for a living. Like in the John Adams Colloquium, people were interested in hearing what students had to say, which felt refreshing in a society where many are trying to be the loudest voice in the room. Throughout all the events, the community was trying to understand and figure out how to tame inflation. 

In high school, we talked about the economy. During class, I sometimes found myself thinking about when I would hear back from Kenyon. Little did I know that when I logged onto my admissions portal seeing the confetti flying down my screen that the world would be on lockdown. Upon reading my acceptance letter, I threw my hands up in the air—this was the first good news I had received in a month and would be a beacon of hope that kept me occupied during the early months of the pandemic. I began stalking Kenyon's website (something I recommend to admitted students) trying to map out all the courses I could take and things I could learn. I looked at the Political Science courses analyzing what each class taught, and dreaming about what it would be like to learn from a college professor. I also thought about the speakers who may come to campus and what they would talk about. 

Even in my wildest dreams during the pandemic, I could not imagine what happened at the John Adams Colloquium and its Biennial Conference. I have been fortunate enough to have so many valuable moments at Kenyon — walking through the Gates of Hell late at night, experiencing the first snowfall of the season  and finding my voice writing for The Kenyon Collegian are just of the few things I get to share with people who visit Gambier. This week, I have added a new anecdote to tell a prospective student. Here, not only will you develop amazing relationships at Kenyon, but the people you meet will also challenge you to become a more knowledgeable person.