The Fine Details of a Vassar Experience

I’ve learned a great deal of important and weighty things in my time at Vassar, but that’s to be expected. What I find far more interesting is the astounding number of absolutely trivial facts I’ve learned about life, myself, living in a community and Vassar. Here are some of my favorites:

Birds will always start singing at 4 a.m., no matter how much work you have left to do.

I can probably walk from the TAs to Main with my eyes closed, but I don’t want to test it. The TA bridge is indestructible…maybe.

Somebody should wash the dishes in the sink, but not me because I didn’t use any of them.

Cell phones are not allowed near Raymond Avenue when construction crews are dynamiting it.

Bacio’s is the most successful thing to ever occupy that spot on Collegeview. Staying “open until whenever” is a good business policy.

New England Building makes incredible noises between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The golfers will insist on sharing their golf games with you at 9 a.m. on a Saturday by talking with each other very loudly outside your window.

Meteor showers are incredible.

Meteor showers are more incredible when you can hear dozens of your classmates sitting on the same golf course as you – but you can’t see a single one of them.

Somebody will always find a way to break the sound system at Matthew’s Mug.

The Mug used to have mirrored ceilings, nice decorations, and a sunken dance floor.

If you have an afternoon to kill after classes, going on a prospective-student tour of Vassar is a baffling, enjoyable experience.

The storm drain in the Aula parking lot will collapse and form a sinkhole every year. The TA stair platforms will collapse and form asphalt moats/ankle traps every year.

Preparing to throw a party is the quickest way to get your house clean.

Throwing a party is the quickest way for your toilet to end up in multiple pieces.

Bathroom graffiti in the Library can range from inspiring song lyrics to helpful conversations, but usually it’s just drawings of penises.

Totes, belig and cray were big in ’08.

When someone asks you for your ID number and says “999″ for you, you will never be able to remember the rest.

Hypermediation, globalized, neoliberal, heteronormative and most other words that will be featured in a thesis or essay title above the 100 level are not recognized by Microsoft Word.

It is possible to cite yourself in a paper: you wrote enough about the topic last semester.

Pulling an all-nighter with the rest of your class every other week is both an excellent and terrible bonding experience.

Disco fries are never the right choice (except when they are).

Moodle is an acronym for “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.”

Always send duplicate jobs to VPrint.

Always know the location of the nearest four VPrint stations from any point on campus, just in case.

The phrase “Cisco Systems Web Authentication Redirect” will be burned into your mind after one semester.

There are secret walking trails in the forest behind Sunset Lake.

The Farm Oversight Committee is a shadowy organization that only appears when you want to throw a rave on the Farm.

Chili Wednesday isn’t always on a Wednesday.

The Retreat used to serve alcohol. More recently, the Retreat also used to serve energy drinks.

There are hidden staircases in the Library. Try to find all seven!

For my fellow outgoing seniors, I hope this trivia brings back fond memories of some of the wonderful quirks of Vassar. For those still attending, learn these well and add your own. Use your spare time to find places on campus you never knew existed. Enjoy every square inch.

Paul Noonan ’10 was the president of Vassar Teknowledgy (VT) and a member of The Limit sketch comedy troupe.

What You Make Of It

Rain pelted my umbrella as I watched my parent’s rented minivan drive out of the muddy lot behind Josselyn House. Turning back to face the quad, Vassar’s campus suddenly seemed huge and void, blurred in the downpour like an impressionist watercolor of a dreary, unpeopled landscape. It seems that ever since that first smeary uncertain day, my time here has been a gradual process of peopling and clarifying that first image I had of Vassar College.

Now I see a campus rife with familiar faces, buildings sharpened and defined by experiences. It’s a landscape that I have run across and tripped over and lounged in until the canvas of Vassar now appears so vivid and heavy with painted memory that I know that finally, it’s done.

There is the freedom and giddiness of freshman year, the settling in of sophomore year, that crazy semester I thought it would be a good idea to take five and a half credits; there are the three hour meals at ACDC, the awkwardness, the well-worn friendships, the loneliness; there’s my summer with the Yale-Vassar program in St. Petersburg, the subsequent whirlwind semester in Paris, the new TH, and that second semester of my junior year in which I believe I grew three years in as many months; there’s senior year, with all its many hardships, the many times when I told myself “it’s not so bad”; there’s my a cappella group that I have loved throughout; there’s my thesis that nearly killed me; there’s all the professors that changed my life, intellectually, spiritually, and sometimes accidentally by adding to that store of wisdom that grows as one matures. It’s hard to say if there is anything that I would change about my time here. Everything seems so cumulative, who knows who I might be if I were to go back and change any of it? Now, facing a real world that seems just as blurry and uncertain, I remember my first day at Vassar and realize that college, like many things in life, is what you make of it.

Open Mind

As of this writing, I have just turned in my second thesis. Normally students are happy to turn in their senior project; I am ecstatic. Now I can actually grasp the fact that my time at Vassar is ending. People always say that college graduation is a major point in your life. I think they are correct. I have learned so much during my time at Vassar and I will be sorry to leave.

I remember opening my acceptance letter to Vassar and thinking, “That’s where Jackie Onassis went!” I was thrilled to go to a school with a big name, beautiful landscape and amazing traditions. For some reason, I thought Vassar would be the finishing school that it used to be. Was I wrong…

My first few weeks at Vassar sped by. A few key moments stand out: the first time I saw a squirrel take a muffin up a tree, my first Nilda’s, the first sip of chocolate milk at the All Campus Dining Center, the first time I got lost in the basement of the library…As I realized I was finally away from home for good, I remember thinking “Why am I here? I don’t fit in. This is not what I signed up for.” Conservative me was terrified by the stark openness everyone exhibited. As I walked to class in makeup and heels, everywhere I turned I saw crazy outfits, Birkenstocks and sweatpants. Vassar was a long way from home. I was worried that I would lose myself in an effort to be politically correct and to fit in.

Looking back, I feel like I do fit in. Everyone seems to fit in. What I know now that I didn’t then is that it doesn’t matter how different you are. Vassar didn’t change, but I feel at home. I changed, and I changed for the better. Yes, I will always consider myself conservative on Vassar’s campus, but my mind is open to new possibilities. Vassar has taught me to appreciate the differences in new things, people and places. I am still my old self with the same morals, manners and confidence, but I am an improved version. Had I chosen to attend another school, I really do not know if I would be the same person that I am today.

College is supposed to be the most fun time of your life. After the days of cramming for exams, doing projects and reading countless books, I can leave Vassar knowing that I have also gained amazing friendships. Four years away from home would have been horrible without my friends. I only wish that they could all come with me after graduation. I can honestly say that I have learned as much from them as I have from my academic work. Leaving them will be just as difficult as leaving Vassar itself.

So as I accept my diploma, I will be happy that I made it through these past four years and came out a better person. I will be forever grateful for all of the help I received from faculty members and friends. I will be a Vassar College grad. Finally.

On a Mission

It’s easy enough to become complacent here. I know I’ve spent too much of my short time here just enjoying the ride, and who can blame us? Vassar’s probably one of the most beautiful places we’ll ever live, we get to read cool books and party away the days. Many of us here have been told since day one that we’re special, destined for great things; Vassar is supposedly our just reward.

But great things never came from being complacent, and there’s nothing special about people who just absorb this privilege without at least questioning where it comes from. The truth is we’re not just here to go into debt in order to have a great time for four years-at least that’s not what it says in the mission statement. We’re here to do more it says, including to develop “the individual imagination to see into the lives of others” and form “independent thought and an attendant resistance to irresponsible authority.” So let’s use the great minds that got us here, think about the people around us and more importantly the people not around us. Can we, if even just for a moment, see into their lives? Have we been resistant to “irresponsible authority” lately?

Our institution is a complex one with an interesting history. We taught women science when it was still popularly believed within the medical community that lady-knowledge made your womb start wandering, but we are also a place which only had six black students in the entire class of 1971.

These sorts of paradoxes exist today on this campus, as well as within the greater society. To those who have yet to graduate, I urge you to use the power and privilege of this institution to speak out when you do stumble upon these paradoxes. Vassar provides a fairly safe place to try out new ideas, to practice using your voice and has endless resources to learn more about how and why these paradoxes exist. Don’t even for a moment think that you are powerless or that no one would listen to you. For better or for worse, just being in a place like this connects us to more power and money than we probably deserve. Think about it this way, how much money do students spend just on alcohol here every weekend? Probably somewhere in the tens of thousands, maybe more. Cash is lying around this campus by the bucketful, just waiting for the right project. What if we could have that money right now? What could we do with it? How could it be better channeled? How many problems could we solve? And remember many problems don’t need money at all; they just need brains, some knowledge and a better attitude.

Obviously questioning “irresponsible authority” isn’t always super easy, even at Vassar. It’s hard to know sometimes who’s right and who’s wrong-things are often shades of gray. Sometimes you might speak up only to say the wrong thing, and probably more frequently you’ll remain silent when you know you should have said something. The times when you know you’ve got it right will feel threatening to those who know they’ve gotten it wrong. Some people will think you’re “ridiculous” or “snobby” for even caring. But so what? Mistakes come with an education, and there’s nothing wrong with being just a tad disillusioned-it certainly doesn’t mean you love this place or this world any less. In fact it means the opposite. It means that you take your commitments seriously, that you will support the contract you signed as freshman with the mission statement on it. It means that you want to give back to an institution which has provided you with so much-great memories and friends, new ways of thinking about the world and a degree that says that you’ll forever be connected to Vassar, to that power and prestige, to all of its successes and to the most depressing of its failures. It means you accept the fact that you are responsible not just for yourself, but for the actions of your fellow students and for the administration your tuition pays for.

So be sure to enjoy the ride, to lie on the well-manicured grasses, to meet new friends from all over the world, to learn about something which has no real significance besides the fact that it’s super cool. But don’t forget that complacency didn’t get us to where we are today and that we owe it all the folks that got us to Vassar and to all the kids who have yet to come here to make the very most of our experience here. Congratulations to the Class of 2010, I can’t wait to hear about the big changes and projects you’ll go on to work on. And best of luck to the Class of 2011, may next year be the year that you form an “increased knowledge of oneself, a humane concern for society and a commitment to an examined and evolving set of values.”

Reflections on The Bubble

I first heard about Vassar when a recent graduate from my high school decided to attend. This particular alum was quite impressive academically, so I added Vassar College to my long list of reaches, maybes and safeties. I was a rising senior and thought it was normal to apply to thirteen schools. I didn’t yet have a specific image in my head of what “college” meant to me, so I applied with a vengeance. Hell, I just wanted to get in somewhere. When it came down to it, I was choosing between Colby College and New York University. I was wait-listed at Vassar, and proud of it, but I didn’t expect anything to come of it. So I visited my two options and chose to spend the next four years of my life in “the City,” as I’ve since come to call it.

I was driving home from school one day in early May 2006 when my father called and told me to hurry for some unexplained reason. I assumed the worst and sped through the serpentine streets of my town. After I sprinted up the stairs to my house, my dad told me that I had gotten a call from Vassar, which I had since visited and learned to love. I called the number that he had taken down, and the faceless voice that answered told me that there was an available spot in the Class of 2010, and that it was mine if I wanted it. I asked her if I could call her back with my answer, and she gave me 48 hours. Within five minutes I was hitting myself for not having accepted the offer immediately. I twiddled my thumbs and feigned patience for as long as I could bear it, and finally redialed the admissions officer’s extension and told her that I would love to go to Vassar and thanked her profusely for the opportunity.

Here I sit, almost exactly four years after that phone call. I’ve spent the past few weeks (read: months) fighting off a case of acute senioritis. I wrote the longest paper that I’ve ever written this semester, and it’s in Spanish to boot. I just turned in the last academic essay of my college career-perhaps, even, the last one of my life. In fact, this retrospective is all I have left to do in the nine days that separate me from my diploma. As I prepare for life outside the bubble, I’m beginning to realize just how fortunate I am to have lived inside it for so long. I’ve had the opportunity to play many roles in my years at Vassar, both literally and figuratively. In the same year, I joined the Cushing House Team and The Vastards-planning dorm events with one group of peers and singing ’80s and ’90s pop songs another-and I performed in two student-directed plays. I declared a concentration in Hispanic studies and recently added a correlate in linguistic anthropology. So naturally, I’ve decided to pursue acting after graduation. That’s the great thing about a Vassar education, though: We receive such all-encompassing preparation for the enigmatic “real world” that no career is outside of our collective potential.

I guess I have some people that I should thank for making my Vassar experience invaluable. To my fellow Cushing Two East fellowees, thank you for making me feel at home from the very start. To my parents, thank you for your endless support (both financial and the more important kind). To my professors, thank you for demanding that I pull many an all-nighter while scrambling to complete your assignments: They were well worth it.

To all of the friends and acquaintances that I’ve made along the way, you’ve taught me as much as my professors have, and I am eternally grateful for that. To the faceless voice, wherever you are, I think I’m in love with you. You brought me to this wonderful place, a place I think I’ll have a pretty hard time leaving. I feel that I can only hope to repay you with the ways I use my Vassar education in the future. I promise to do my best to do some good. And for those of you about to graduate, I salute you. Display that diploma proudly.

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