September 2012 Essays


September Possibilities

Okay, it's September.

The academic year is just getting going. You've moved in and retrieved your various belongings from storage or the Eustis mailroom, and you may have even gotten to the point of negotiating whose posters and tapestries go on which walls (always making sure not to obstruct a smoke detector or sprinkler head!). You've bought your books and notebooks and loaded credit onto your Colby card. You've gotten through the first day of class in each of your courses and you've made that first sojourn to the library (or the lounge down the hall or wherever it is that you go to study) and you're starting to figure out the rhythms of your daily schedule.

So, how's it going? How are you doing?

Is college what you hoped and expected it would be? Is Colby?

Seriously. I'm not trying to be cute. And I'm not asking because I actually expect all 1800 of you to shoot me a quick email with your answers to the questions posed above. (But hey, if you want to that's okay too. That's what I'm here for.)

Really what I want is for you to take some time now - at the outset of the year - to think about what it is that you want to take away from your Colby experience. Think about why you're here, how you came to be here, where you hope to go, and what you need to do to get there.

One of the most awesome and amazing things about going to college is that you get to define it for yourself. You get to decide what you will study and how you will spend your time out of class and who your friends will be and what matters to you. You determine if and when you're going to read your U.S. history assignment and how much time you're going to put into it - though at better than $56,000 a year it's probably a safe bet that your family might have some influence over how you choose to make those decisions. But ultimately you control what Colby will be for you. In the end, you choose your path at Colby.

It sounds easy -  like opening your sock drawer in the morning and deciding that today is an argyle day and just going for it. It sounds easy, but it's not. It's not easy is because getting it right takes a lot of thought and care and reflection. Just picking courses is easy. Ending up in a major because, you know, the intro class was sorta cool and Prof. So-and-so is nice and the times when most of the philosophy courses are offered fit well in your schedule is easy. Hanging out with the same small circle of people and eating at the same table in the same dining hall every night and doing the same things most every weekend because that's what you do is easy.

Getting it right is hard.

But because you choose your path, you can also choose to change your path.

The point is your education - your Colby experience - is necessarily dynamic and changing.  The point is it's not enough to simply show up as a first-year and just take classes and choose a major and do some activities and hope that at the end of four years it all makes sense. The point is you need to ask yourself how it's going and how you're doing and if you're getting out of Colby all that you hope and expect. The point is you have to constantly evaluate and rethink and question and consider whether the path you chose two years ago or last week, or the path you will choose tomorrow or next month, is the right one. And you need to keep asking yourself these and other hard questions and keep exploring new options and keep making adjustments and keep seizing every ounce of opportunity that Colby has to offer.

There are lots of us - advisors, faculty, deans, coaches, and counselors - who are here to help. But the work is on you.

It's September. It's the start of a new year. And regardless of whether it's your first September on Mayflower Hill, or your second, third, fourth, or seventh (as it is for me), the year ahead offers a fresh start and new opportunities and possibilities you may not have even imagined could exist.

So, how's it going?

Jim Terhune
Dean of Students

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Inside the Colby Bubble

So let's talk about the Colby Bubble.

You know about the Colby Bubble, right? It's the generally accepted euphemism on campus for the idea that life as a student at Colby isn't like life in the so-called real world. The idea that students are isolated and insulated from the distractions and disruptions and disappointments that real adults have to deal with all the time. The idea that within the cozy confines of Mayflower Hill students are somehow exempt from real life.

It's an interesting idea in that it's sort of true and sort of not.

There is no denying that Colby is a contrived community. Think about who lives here.  You - the roughly 1800 full-time, 24/7, eat-sleep-study-play residents of Mayflower Hill - are almost exclusively 18 to 22 years of age.

With few exceptions you all eat together in the same places at the same times every day.

You live in a residence hall room (or a couple of rooms if you're lucky) where you sleep and study and change your cloths and snack and socialize and occasionally do other things that you don't want me to know about and I don't want to acknowledge. You share bathrooms and walk down the halls wrapped in towels and knock on each other's doors at all hours of the day and night and all of that is completely normal.

We send you one big whopping bill twice a year, but once it's paid and you're here you don't have to worry about things like paying the electric bill or running out of hot water or shoveling snow off the walk. You have access to health care and counseling and athletic, recreational, and fitness facilities pretty much around the clock at no extra charge. There are lectures and films and concerts and art exhibits and athletic contests and theatrical performance and parties at your disposal every day.

You all take classes and most of you are involved in some activities that require you to be in particular places at particular times. A good chunk of you are employed for a few hours a week but almost none of you work full-time during the stretches of time that you are here. But most of you have lots of unstructured time when you can do pretty much anything you want.

All of that is intentional, deliberate, and exactly as it is supposed to be. Because all of that creates a space and a setting for you to engage in the process of learning as fully and completely as possible. Because learning here is an all-the-time thing. Because the insulation the "bubble" provides makes it easier and safer for you to step beyond what you already know and push the boundaries of your comfort zones. Because you get more out of being at Colby when you can give your full self over to being at Colby.

So yeah, there are big parts of this that are different from what your life was like before you came to college and what your life will be like after you leave. But your life on Mayflower Hill is no less real than it was, is, or will be when you're not here.

The exhilaration you feel when you step out of your residence hall on a crisp, blue sky October morning with mist crawling off the frost on Miller lawn is real exhilaration.

The frostbite you get if you walk across that frosted lawn with bare feet is real frostbite.

The anxiety that churns in your stomach right before you step out on stage on opening night is real anxiety.

The adulation that surrounds you when you take your third curtain call to a standing ovation is real adulation.

The pride and happiness you feel in the joyful mayhem that erupts after the final horn sounds after the men's hockey team beats Bowdoin or women's basketball team beats Bates (or any of our teams beat Bowdoin or Bates) is real pride and happiness.

The disappointment that follows striking out with the tying run on third base to lose the game to Williams is real disappointment.

The sense of community and belonging you experience volunteering on Colby Cares Day is real community and belonging.

The loneliness that rushes over you because you couldn't be at home for your little sister's tenth birthday party is real loneliness.

The thrill of accomplishment when a chemistry experiment works, the frustration of making a careless mistake on a calculus exam, the elation of falling in love and the heartbreak of getting dumped, the warm embrace of acceptance and the ache of betrayal, the comfort of kindness and the sting of cruelty are all real.

Yeah, there is a kind of a Colby Bubble. But entrance into it doesn't come with tights and a cape. The things that happen to you and to your friends and your families while you're here are real. The choices you make and the things that you do have real consequences for you and for the people who are affected by them.

Your time inside the Colby Bubble isn't your whole life. But it is your real life while you're here.

So work hard and have fun. And be careful, be kind, and, you know, be real.


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