“College is for lovers. At least, this one was. Looming up out of the trees on its hilly pedestal, Dexter College looked so strikingly pretty and at the same time so quaintly academic, it was almost as out of place in its rural setting as some of its students. The campus was fortified on all sides by forests of ancient conifers, tall birches, and dense maples, so that only the proud white spire of the college chapel was visible from town.”
So opens Cum Laude, a novel by Gossip Girl author Cecily von Ziegesar ’92. If the setting sounds eerily familiar, it’s probably because Dexter is a lot like Colby, right down to the blue light that shines atop the library, a beacon day and night—and rumored to go out only when a virgin graduates.
It’s 1992 and Shipley Gilbert is about to embark on the life-changing journey of freshman year. She comes to college naïve and sheltered, without the slightest idea how to behave around boys. Shipley had “gone to the same girls’ school—Greenwich Academy—since kindergarten. It had a brother school—Brunswick—and she’d sung in choir with boys and even had a male lab partner in AP chemistry. But because her father was of the mostly absent variety and her older brother was strange and remote and had been away at boarding school almost since she could remember, she remained unsure of herself around boys.”
That all changes by the end of orientation, as Shipley becomes the object of every Dexter boy’s desires. Cum Laude is a coming of age story, following Shipley and her friends as they navigate life, love, and the unpredictable weather at this school on a hill in rural Maine.
So, did this story about life at Dexter College circa 1992 appeal to a Colby student in 2010? I read Cum Laude in three hours, savoring every moment and wishing it were longer. (Okay. I was procrastinating, with Karl Marx next in line.) No, Cum Laude isn’t likely to win any literary awards, but the plot is full of drama and romance that will keep you guessing and the pages turning. And, while my experience at Colby has been very different from Shipley’s at Dexter, I can still relate. I pass people like Shipley and her friends every day here at Colby. In fact, I’m good friends with some of them. The novel might be set in 1992, but the stereotypical Colby students that Shipley and her friends represent are still here.
This novel works because it’s relevant, especially if you spent four years on Mayflower Hill. Cum Laude is about trying to figure out who you are. It’s about making connections and experiencing new and unexpected things. College is as much about the academics as it is about the experience, and, as Shipley soon realizes, “There would be more snow, more kisses, more sex, more gunshots, more fires. This is what she had come for—what they all had come for. This was college.”
But this isn’t just any college. This is a certain small school in rural Maine, a place for learning and discovering, a place where the blue light shines on long after you’ve left. This is Dexter, but it’s also Colby—minus the Starbucks in the student center.
Read an interview with Cecily von Ziegesar by writer Emily Fleming '12.