I’m sitting in the dining hall of Eliot House just past 1 a.m. For company, a half-filled cup of soggy Frosted Flakes. Peers at the tables around me grumble about multivariable calculus and Lockean ethics; occasionally, the hall’s mahogany door opens and a student stumbles in looking dazed, shaking droplets from their CVS umbrella.
My post-midnight surroundings are neither miserable nor exciting. From a college student’s perspective, they’re just exceedingly normal.
Yet it’s this very normalcy that over the pandemic took on such a rarefied air. Just months ago, I wrote a letter detailing the surreal condition of being a student at a place I had not yet stepped foot in. Now a sophomore living on campus, I have already begun approaching the ordinary in a characteristically pre-pandemic way. So here I am, writing to remember:
As a freshman quarantining in the suburbs of Chicago, I resolved to never forget that the normal was sacred. Yet here I am, forgetting.
Perhaps part of it is a function of the quick pace at which life moves on your campus. There’s always another meeting to attend, another book to read, another position to chase. We are, both as a university and a society, so fixated on the promise of newness: new visions and strategies, new systems and ideas.
Here, we lionize the initiative to get ahead. But as I’ve sat in your libraries reading Morrison and Fanon, as I’ve written articles and run to meetings, it’s dawned on me that if I become too occupied with my own work, I’ll miss out on chances to look beyond myself — to observe and learn from all the lives being lived alongside my own.
Looking back, the most enriching experiences I’ve had over the past months have been the ones where I don’t insist on placing myself at the center, but rather bear witness to the talents of those around me: watching my classmate’s football game, reading a friend’s screenplay, hearing about a peer’s post-grad dream.
I’ve realized the most vital lessons these four years with you can provide are not those we have yet to learn, but rather those we can’t afford to forget: spontaneous moments of wonder, the thrill of growth, the redemptive magic of time spent with good people. Things we have understood, at least vaguely, our whole lives.
Still, despite the sense of belonging I’ve been fortunate enough to feel on your campus, the past months haven’t been without qualms.
The future can be disquieting. When I’m walking home to the Quad after a long day, I find my thoughts wandering to where I’ll be five, 10, 20 years down the line. I want a stolen glance at whatever version of myself waits on the other end. A glimpsed affirmation that, at least in some capacity, things will work out.
And yet, I suppose there’s a power that comes with lacking answers. With lingering in the discomfort of uncertainty before reaching for closure — before telling those around me who I am, and what kind of person I aspire to be.
So here’s to the next two-and-a-half years with you. Here’s to victories and losses, celebrations and heartbreaks. Here’s to good decisions, and bad ones, too. To more long walks along the Charles, and post-midnight DoorDash, and crashing at my twin’s dorm when it’s 2 a.m. and the Quad seems far away. Here’s to marching to Allston when I miss Korean food, and savoring overpriced coffee at Blue Bottle, and reading in Widener as the sky goes dark. To falling in and out of love — with people and ideas, stories and places — and being alright with that.
The rain has stopped. It’s nearing 3 a.m., and nearly everyone has gone. In the far corner of the dining hall, a student scribbles furiously in a book, brandishing one colored pen after the other. I work methodically, buoyed in some vague way by the presence of that stranger. Through the gossamer mesh of the window, I can make out the lawn and the dark trees. Beyond that, the gate and the river. Your ordinary fixtures that were for me, just months ago, nothing short of a miracle.
Like most nights when I get caught up in my writing, tomorrow is already here. In a few hours, the dining hall will open for breakfast. Bleary-eyed students will sip orange juice or coffee over p-sets and half-baked essays. The cafes will fill up, and cars will clog the streets. Campus will breathe and move.
You wait for no one so we rush out to meet you, tired and eager, brimming with our bright ideas and private dreams. Like any other day, I’ll go out to meet you, too. As I pass Smith and the Yard, walk through Barker and look over the bridge, I’ll realize all over again that if there’s anything you’ve taught me, it’s that I am just beginning. I hope I always will be.
—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.