As I walk out the door of Old Kenyon, the cold December air slaps me in the face. I wonder why I picked rural Ohio to go to College. I’m not used to this weather—in Arlington, Virginia, where I’m from, it barely gets down to the low 20s.
I am on my way to meet my professor at Ralston House for an 11:15 a.m. office hour appointment. My watch reads 11 o'clock. As I spent last semester at home, I forget that it takes time to get to meetings. No longer can I hop off a video meeting and jump onto another one seconds later. The brisk walk down Middle Path starts to warm me up. As I look at the snow on the ground, I think back to the last time I saw snow; I was back home for spring semester last year, along with all the other first-years.
I remember going to virtual office hours, hoping that nobody would be there or that the appointment slot after me wasn’t booked so I could talk to the professor longer. I found it hard to ask questions in class, so I would go to office hours often. Attending class, the gray squares on the computer in front of the mustard yellow walls of my basement back home did not make up a color palette any artist would want. The questions the teachers asked were often met with silence before a brave soul stepped forward to answer.
In office hours, I was excited to talk with the professor, not just for the knowledge that they possessed, but for the company as well. I wanted them to pop out of the screen and say “Congrats, you passed the exam. The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns were a test. Let’s go out for dinner.” I envisioned a world where the Kenyon I applied to was the Kenyon I would experience.
My phone buzzes, and I'm back in Gambier looking at Rosse Hall where I should have done First-Year Sing—another casualty of the pandemic. I pull out my phone to find a text from my friends. “Game night? 8:30 my place." I respond that I might be a bit late. It’s production night at the Kenyon Collegian, where I am Sports Editor. Each week, I walk all the way north to Old Snowden to edit the sports stories to be printed in the paper the next day.
Last spring semester, the Collegian was a seagull at sea. I got most of the information that was happening on campus from the paper’s group chat. Reading about everything going on was one thing, but I so badly wanted to live it. Once a week, the Sports Editors met to divide up the articles and check in on our current pieces. I was jealous of the Sports Editors’ dorm rooms. I didn’t want to just be on campus—I wanted to interact with the whole community. The upperclassmen often gave me advice on these calls that left me hungrier than ever to be in Gambier. A senior told me that everything would be okay. I wanted someone to give me a hug and tell me it was okay to be struggling.
The struggle with academic work and managing extracurriculars while being about 400 miles away from campus was mitigated by talking to the friends I made in the first 12 weeks of the semester. I didn’t have to prepare anything to talk with them. I could just plop down in front of my screen with the mustard yellow walls, and somehow my friends made the palette palpable.
As I pass through the Gates of Hell, I think back to earlier in the semester when my friends and I were walking back from North campus late at night in the first few hours of a Sunday. I yelled “left,” running ahead of the pack through the gates and watched as my friends begrudgingly walked on the left side, making sure to give me glares. I didn’t mind their looks. We were together, something I couldn’t say last semester.
When 7 p.m. rolled around last spring, my mom would call me up to dinner. As I shut the lid of my laptop, I felt my eyes breathe a sigh of relief: no more screens for the day. I walked upstairs, sat down at the table, and listened to how everyone’s day was. It was nice to hear how my sister’s math test went, but in my head I was fantasizing about listening to a friend talk about how their meeting with a professor about research went.
I cross the street, and I turn back to look at Peirce, thinking about the nights there when I consumed more laughter than food. I don’t remember specifically what the jokes were, but maybe that’s the fun of it: jokes that never seem to end, even though the punchline has long since been delivered.
I open the creaky door of Ralston House. It’s 11:14, so I enter my professor's office. As I sit down in the chair, we begin to talk about my first draft. Unlike last semester, there are no distractions. Nobody is going to accidentally interrupt me, thinking I am free. There will be no technology troubles. Finally, I can be completely present in the meeting. The conversation moves from my academic performance to my extracurriculars.
About an hour later, I walk out of office hours to greet the cold December air. It slaps me in the face, but I don’t mind. I happily accept the slap in exchange for being on the Hill.
Caleb Newman '24 is a Sociology and Political Science double major from Arlington, VA.