On Words of Wisdom and Not-So-Great Moments
I remember going to overnight summer camp for the first time with my best friend when we were in middle school. We sat next to each other on the bus, recalling colorful videos and photographs from the camp website as we talked about how excited we were. All we could think about was how happy the kids in those videos and photos looked making new friends, participating in fun activities, performing and playing games. We remembered the words that flashed across the top of the website, sayings like, “Experience the magic firsthand!” and “Get ready for the best summer ever!”
When we got off the bus, one of the first things the camp director said was something crucial for us to hear: “Camp will be great. But not every moment will be great. It’s still life — there will be times when you’re not having fun or times when you’re upset. That’s okay. Don’t try to make every moment the best moment ever.”
As I would discover during my time at camp, he was so right. I loved the camp I went to — everyone was friendly and supportive, the counselors were awesome, you could choose your own activities — but I wasn’t completely happy every moment of every day. There were times when there was nothing I wanted to eat for dinner, when my best friend and I would argue, when I was tired or overwhelmed or just grumpy. In those moments, recalling the director’s words from the first day helped me remember that my feelings were perfectly acceptable, that I could — and should — still love my camp experience, despite the natural ups and downs.
I’ve thought about this so many times since then, especially in the context of Kenyon. It can be easy to look at beautiful websites and students beaming in college brochures’ glossy photographs and expect that that flawless, cheery person will always be you. It won’t. This isn’t because there’s something wrong with Kenyon. It’s because no matter how much you connect with an environment, you can’t escape the reality: Life brings both highs and lows.
This was a lesson I had to learn during my first year of college. My first semester was what you might call “the honeymoon phase” of my relationship with Kenyon. I remember feeling incredibly happy almost all the time — whenever I walked anywhere, I looked around and thought, “Wow. I am so lucky to be in such a beautiful place with such wonderful people.” At the end of the semester, I left for winter break on a high note. I’d done well in my classes, gotten a great job and spent the night before break watching movies in the lounge of my residence hall with friends. As the bus drove down the hill out of Gambier heading to the airport, I turned around to get a last glimpse at Kenyon. It was bittersweet — I was happy that I’d chosen such an amazing place to spend four years, but at the same time, so sad that I was already finished with my first semester.
When I returned to Kenyon for my second semester, “the honeymoon phase” had, for the most part, ended. Even though the campus covered in snow was breathtaking, it also was freezing. My classes were different, and, initially, I didn’t like them as much as I’d loved my first semester’s classes. I got rejected from a few jobs I applied for, which was really difficult to stomach. To make matters worse, I was suddenly faced with a lot of unexpected anxiety regarding all sorts of things, especially my health. Anxiety about my health made my health worse, which made my anxiety worse, which made my health worse, etc. It was a vicious circle.
Suffice to say, my second semester at Kenyon was not quite as sunny — literally or figuratively — as my first. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t, overall, a good semester. I still did well in my classes; I still had a great job and great friends. As my camp director said, not every moment was great, but not every moment needed to be great to have a great experience.
Because schools advertise themselves as picture-perfect, it can be natural to come to college expecting a utopia. I think it’s important to note that even though Kenyon is amazing, there will be moments that are not amazing — not because of Kenyon, but because of life. At these times, we need to remember that our Kenyon careers are not defined by a few bad moments. It was stepping back to look at the big picture — being at a school that I loved, meeting wonderful people, feeling incredibly lucky to be here — and reminding myself of the many, many good memories I’d made at Kenyon that kept me sane during a tough semester.