The Eight Semester Experiment

by Liza Darwin, Class of 2010

I’m sitting at the long center table on the right side of the Library in the middle of finals week. Within the past two days here, I’ve witnessed stress and exhaustion-induced craziness ranging from Red Bull chugging contests to a capella concerts, with a little bit of studying squeezed in between. I could recite all of the selling points of this space that I’ve ingrained into my memory from years as a tour guide, such as the Gothic-style architecture, the Flemish tapestries or the stained glass portrait of Lady Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. However, these facts definitely don’t convey to prospective students the atmosphere in the Library during finals, just like it’s impossible to truly know Vassar until you get here and experience it for yourself.

As the first person from my high school to attend Vassar in several years, I had no idea what to expect. I’d already mentally prepared myself for the frigid winters and had decided early that I would use my Southern charm to make new friends, since I knew absolutely nobody. Although I had told everyone in Nashville that I couldn’t wait for a “fresh start,” I worried, as move-in day crept closer, that I had gone a little too far with this decision.

Four years later, I couldn’t be happier. I honestly believe that my “why not?” attitude from freshman year has shaped my Vassar experience in the best ways possible. I remember impulsively deciding to run for freshman class secretary within the first weeks of school for the sole reason of meeting new people. When I won, I had unknowingly discovered an activity that would follow me throughout most of my Vassar career. The Vassar Student Association (VSA) was the ideal outlet for someone like me who wanted to be involved in every part of campus life. Whether it’s the Committee on College Life, Drug and Alcohol Education Committee or the Judicial Board, if you have an opinion here, there are plenty of outlets to make yourself heard.

I remember at the end of freshman year (clearly still riding high from first-year-of-college enthusiasm) Selina, Lucy and I decided to start a style magazine at Vassar in hopes of celebrating the cool, eclectic and creative students here. We clearly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, having no magazine experience whatsoever and even less authority on “style.” I just remember standing in front of the VSA budget meeting, as a meek little freshmen, telling the Executive Board that we needed a budget of “approximately $30,000″ in order to start our magazine. We could hear the group laughing at us before we even shut the door to the meeting room. Despite minor setbacks such as this one, my “why not?” attitude from freshman year is still going strong.

After eight semesters here, I’ve found that this mentality is inherent in every Vassar student and has seeped into almost every aspect of life here. Whether it’s taking 100 level art history classes your senior year, exchanging your Thursday Dutch routine for Late Night at the Loeb or taking a day to check out the Dia Beacon, exploration and experimentation are defining factors at Vassar. Sometimes it takes stepping outside of the College’s gates to really appreciate the value of the Vassar experience.

In my TH, we have a poster hanging in our kitchen that says, “Nobody wishes they got more sleep in college.” While this may sound crazy-who at Vassar consistently feels well-rested, anyway?-it really does ring true. Looking back on my college experience, it’s the nighttime chats with friends, the hours-long procrastination sessions at the ACDC, and the random daily occurrences that shape a college experience. Although the classroom lectures and discussions are great for intellectual development, four years at Vassar constitutes much more than that. So even though everyone sitting in the Library with me has tons of work to do, I’m glad we are all able to take a little break and appreciate the Redbull contests and musical entertainment that I know we’ll miss very soon.