In high school, I knew that I wanted to see as much of the world as possible. At every college that I toured, I asked questions about off-campus study programs and scoured school websites for pictures of students laughing overseas, with a backdrop of the Colosseum or the Pacific Ocean. Wherever I ended up, I knew that I wanted to live broadly, to spread my wings. Coming into Kenyon in the fall of 2014, I had already decided that I wanted to go abroad. My first week at Kenyon wasn’t even at Kenyon: I participated in the Outdoors Pre-Orientation program, hiking in West Virginia. College was all about testing my limits, I thought.
For better or for worse, I tested many of my limits during my first semester at Kenyon. I joined a lot of groups, went to parties and on field trips (hello, Cleveland Orchestra!), but something was still missing. I felt like I was at an extended summer camp, something that would end with a talent show and the exchange of home addresses. Kenyon was exhilarating, but it wasn’t home. Not yet.
For me, going to college was a chance to escape my high-school self. I didn’t want to be stuck in the band room for another four years, no matter how much I enjoyed it at the time. High school was full of ultimatums for me: band or chorus, AP Gov or AP Euro. I was either this kind of student or that kind of student, a slacker or a high-achiever. But at Kenyon, for the first time in my life, no one was telling me who to be. So, at first, I tried to be everything. Predictably, this burned me out. So I adapted. I learned that watching an episode of Breaking Bad in between writing papers didn’t mean I was a lazy student: it meant that I was giving myself a break. I turned back to parts of myself that I’d cast aside after coming to Kenyon. I started eating dessert again. I started breathing.
Testing my limits became a lot easier once I allowed myself to normalize Kenyon. So many people come to college expecting it to be a machine that swallows you up and spits out a higher-achieving version of yourself. No college can do that, but what a college can do is give you the tools to imagine what kind of future you want to build for yourself. In high school, I could get by saying that I wanted to be a writer in the future. Kenyon challenged me to think more specifically. So I did.
I began to have hard conversations with myself, and with my friends. What kind of person do I want to be? What do I want to do with my major, and with my career? I talked with people, all kinds of people, about big ideas and small ideas. These conversations took place in Peirce Dining Hall, on long walks across campus at one in the morning, in classrooms. Part of what makes Kenyon so special to me is the privilege of being taken seriously. I found that in class, people would listen to points that I made and respond to them, forcing me to think more deeply about the material at hand. In high school, I would spend class in my own head, thinking of a point, saying it, and then disappearing inside myself to think about another point. In college, I learned to listen. Learned to make points, yes, but also to respond to other points being made, other ideas being voiced.
I’m currently nearing the end of my junior year. I didn’t go abroad, instead choosing to stay at Kenyon all year. It was a hard decision, a decision that I thought had already been made when I stepped onto campus two-and-a-half years ago. As an English major and music minor, there were too many classes that I wanted to take, and too many ensembles that I wanted to stay with year-round, and ultimately I decided not to go abroad. While it was a tough decision, and something I still think about, it is a testament to the classes and the people at Kenyon that I loved too much to leave, even just for a semester. Many of my friends went abroad and loved it, but I’m glad that I made the decision I did, that I had the hard conversation with myself instead of making an impulsive choice.
Kenyon did not turn me into a different person. I like to think that I would be a good, well-rounded individual no matter which college I chose. Rather, Kenyon has helped, and continues to help, me become the version of myself that I have always aspired to be. The classes I take, the conversations I have with friends and professors: these things shape who I am. If what you are is what you do every day, I’m pretty lucky to get to spend most days at Kenyon, reading and talking and continuing to ask myself hard questions.