People, Trees, and Buildings: My Vassar Adventure
by Riley Greene, Class of 2010
The sun setting at 4:30 in the afternoon is really a bummer. That was one of the first things I learned my freshmen year. I didn’t like this place very much at first. It was very cold and very dark, and I couldn’t find anything to eat in ACDC besides chicken wraps and cheeseburgers. I was overwhelmed by new “friends,” people you were suddenly intimately close to-sharing a living space, sharing a bathroom-but who you did not know any real thing about. I felt surrounded and isolated all at once, and it was a feeling I didn’t quite know how to deal with. I wanted friends, and I wanted privacy. I wanted to be left alone, but I wanted someone to knock on my door. This tension I encountered in my new world was one I would learn to balance throughout my Vassar experience, socially, personally, intellectually, etc.; I was in a place where there was seemingly infinite possibilities-what to learn, where to go, who to know, what to play-which is at once thrilling and terrifying. Despite its dark beginnings, however, my Vassar experience has proved to be undoubtedly a thrill.
Those friends I fumbled so awkwardly with at the beginning are now my best teachers and my closest allies. The cockiness of experience that came with sophomore year united us-we knew this place now, and we knew each other. I learned what it meant to have and to be a “good friend.” At Vassar, your friends can be everything; you can grapple with an intellectual question while playing beer pong-a seamless integration of sport, smarts and fun. Vassar students, our friends, taught me the depth of what “being a friend” can, and ideally should, mean. The responsibility, patience, trust and love that are so integral to any relationship came to the fore as we were placed in the hectic social scene that is college and struggled with the subsequent suffocation and ironic isolation. The balance emerged in friendships deeper and stronger than I could have ever imagined on our rainy move-in day freshman year, and will undoubtedly be what stays with me as we all leave this place together.
These friends were also companions-partners on the excellent adventure that is life at Vassar. Time at Vassar offers endless opportunities for exploration. On campus, in Poughkeepsie and across the world, Vassar enabled me to explore, play and learn. What was never in question for me at Vassar is the beauty and wisdom of this physical place. Stomping around this campus for four years lead me into open spaces of play, secret nooks for prayer, sun-filled attic rooms, rooms of intense learning and on and on. Vassar’s campus is one that teaches by its presence, where you realize that the buildings themselves can instruct you as much on space, structure and beauty as any lecture. There are trees here that you can disappear into for a day, discovering a veritable home in their branches. Climbing these trees, finding these attics, filling these spaces with fellow adventurers are some of the strongest and happiest memories I have, and remind me to keep exploring, wherever I go.
Where will I go? That is the next question, the next step. Again I am (we are) faced with something simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. What’s exciting is that we know what to do now. Vassar is a place where we learned how to be in the world, where we learned how to keep on learning. Now, with new confidence, we can recall the awkwardness of freshman year and get through the awkwardness of our next “first day.” We can remember the inflated ego, the wise and foolish sophomore attitude, and carry confidence without forgetting a sense of humility into our endeavors. And, as junior year taught us, we can endeavor whatever we please, make places that seem foreign, whether across the world or across the street, seem like home, knowing that the friendships and place that has supported us so far remains supportive, no matter how removed we may feel. Finally, hopefully, we have learned too to take those moments of pause, to appreciate the trees we walk by everyday, so that at the end, we feel sense of completion, dare I say a bit of wisdom, as we, as seniors, as graduates, pack up our Vassar lives, and look, rain or shine, to the next move-in day.
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