Customs: It’s so much more than an orientation program

Autumn has begun to fall onto Haverford’s campus, and October has brought with it chilly breezes, crisp apples, and the beginning of the arboretum’s colorful transformation from green to orange, yellow, and red.

Seniors are digging into their thesis topics and juniors are largely abroad or getting adjusted to upper-classmen levels of work.  Sophomores are starting to feel comfortable in their shoes as experienced members of the community, and first-years are starting to settle in and truly call this place home.

And, for many, Haverford does quickly begin to feel like home.  Whenever I speak with my family about traveling to and from the campus, I often say that traveling to Haverford is going home, and I mean it.  Haverford does an exceptional job of making the circumstances right for new students to feel comfortable in their own skin and get excited about engaging with the community they’ve become a part of.

The program that does the most to engage students right from the get-go is undoubtedly Customs.  Customs is Haverford’s version of new student orientation, but it’s so much more than orientation week.  Each freshmen hall gets eight returning students to help guide them through both their first week of college and the entirety of their first year.  On this team of eight, there are Customs People, who live with the freshmen and act as always-accessible support people; Upper-Classmen Advisors, who also live with the freshmen and help them navigate their academic decisions; Peer Awareness Facilitators, who host open-ended discussions about social issues and campus life with the freshmen; Honor Code Orienteers, who help freshmen get adjusted to life under Haverford’s unique Honor Code; and an Ambassador of Multicultural Awareness, whose job it is to connect freshmen with the resources they need to hold on to and celebrate their unique cultural identities as they transition into adult life.

Group bonding during Customs Week 2014

Group bonding during Customs Week 2014

This entails a whole lot more than just a smattering of enthusiastic orientation leaders who lead orientation week and then disappear after the semester begins.  The Customs Team sticks with freshmen throughout their first year at Haverford to help them get the most out of their first year of college life.  It’s also more robust than having resident assistants who are paid to act as disciplinarians: instead, all Customs Team members are volunteers, and their job is never to punish first-years, but help them to thrive, succeed, and get back on their feet if they falter.

Last year, I was a Customs Person (CP) for a group of first-years in Gummere Hall.  This year, I am a Peer Awareness Facilitator (PAF) for a group in Barclay Hall.  Customs Week this year was an exciting and fast-paced orientation week, filled with all sorts of fun activities such as the campus-wide scavenger hunt and the Fords Against Boredom Block Party.  There were also opportunities for freshmen to learn about the school’s traditions, such as a trust walk to illustrate living under the Honor Code, and a cultural timeline event to learn more about each other’s cultural backgrounds. The majority of the events that happen during Customs Week are intended to help first-years get to know one another and build meaningful friendships right away.

During the campus-wide scavenger hunt, one of the tasks to to photograph first-years in a laundry machine. Left to right in machines: Jess, Amanda, Emily, and Anna. Left to right on top: Max and myself (Damon).

During the campus-wide scavenger hunt, one of the tasks to to photograph first-years in a laundry machine. Left to right in machines: Jess, Amanda, Emily, and Anna. Left to right on top: Max and myself (Damon).

Now that the year is under way, it’s time to get down to business with my Peer Awareness Facilitator partner, Ellie Greenler ’17.  She and I are planning discussions on a wide variety of topics, including race & ethnicity, religion, gender & sexuality, disability, and more.  More frequently, Ellie and I (along with the rest of our Customs Team) spend a large portion of our free time just hanging out with the freshmen that we have been assigned to.  We may have explicitly defined roles, but one of the best parts of Customs is simply that it sets the stage for first years to make new friends with each other and their Customs Team.  In many cases, these bonds last for many years beyond freshman year and beyond our time at Haverford.  One of my Customs Persons from my freshman year, Dan Fries ’15, is now one of my best friends and roommates.

Me with my Peer Awareness Facilitator (PAF) partner, Ellie Greenler '17. On top of being a chance to get to know one another and get oriented to campus life, Customs is a ton of fun.

Me with my Peer Awareness Facilitator (PAF) partner, Ellie Greenler ’17. On top of being a chance to get to know one another and get oriented to campus life, Customs is a ton of fun.

Customs was named as such because it offers freshmen the opportunity to learn the customs of Haverford College.  One of the most important customs that Haverford holds in high esteem is our tight-knit, caring community.  Thus, friendship and fellowship are some of the most important customs that we have to show each incoming class of students.  So, as the Class of 2018 settles in to life at Haverford, they can be rest assured that a friend is never too far away. 

 

 

Quakerliness in Motion

Quaker and non-Quaker students at Haverford’s Quaker Community retreat to Snipes Farm, Fall 2013.  The retreat included fellowship, singing around a campfire, sustainable food, and community service.

Part of what drew me to Haverford when I was going through college applications was the school’s long-standing connection to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). A bit of history: Haverford, founded nearly 200 years ago in 1833, was the very first in a long line of colleges started by Quakers.   Continue reading

Senior Sentiments

Coming into my final year at Haverford, I anticipated feeling a bit of denial and overwhelming nostalgia. While not an untrue statement, the transition to this transitional year has been smooth and natural. Dare I say it? I’m relishing being a senior and the productive, exciting opportunities it affords.

My thesis proposal is in, approved, and awaiting remarks from my newly minted thesis adviser. I’m going to be working with Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger and exploring construction of character through geographic and mental spaces, as well as time and memory. This thesis topic draws on my established interests in perspectivalism and temporality, and allows me to reflect further on theories of identity in relationship to place, which I cultivated during my extensive travels during my semester abroad. The senior thesis experience is a space for culmination and reflection, as well looking forward within the discipline. Continue reading

Squash champions

This past weekend, Haverford’s women’s squash team packed up our squash rackets and headed up to New Haven, Connecticut for the college national tournament. After months and weeks of practice and games, we were excited to have the opportunity to play in this tournament.

We had qualified E Division and after winning all of our round-robin matches, we moved onto the championship match to compete for the big win. The night before the match, I could barely sleep. Come Sunday morning, when we won our division championships, all of the work that my teammates had put in paid off.

The squash team and athletics have been a big part of my life at Haverford; with practice everyday, we have all dedicated a lot of time to our sport and I’ve quickly become close with many of my teammates. Yet despite the time commitment required by sports, Haverford athletes have a way of balancing their time here so that their sport is not the only part of their life here. For example, many varsity athletes are involved in extracurricular activities like Honor Council, Student Council, and all of our student-led clubs on campus. In addition, there are no classes offered during practice times, 4:00pm and 7:00pm, to ensure that athletes aren’t excluded from taking certain classes. At Haverford, no one has to choose between being a student, an athlete, or a member of our student community.

All of the practice, workouts, and time spent preparing for the matches were rewarded by the title of E Division Champions.  But coming back to Haverford, exhausted from the weekend, we were not alone in our excitement; we were welcomed back as squash players, as friends, and as members of the Haverford community.

 

Expanding Networks

I got into a spat with my fifteen year-old brother the other day.  The keystone question: who’s the cooler sibling?  Well, if we’re being honest, my brother is a soccer star, plays bass and guitar in a rock band, and pulls off pierced ears with panache… but, I decided we should settle this debate by looking at how many Facebook friends we each have.  He has 759; I have 904.  Victory was mine.  I conveniently ignored the fact that I have a few more networks at my disposal – high school, work, college, etc. – than he does, but these are just details anyway, right?

Unfortunately for sibling rivalry’s sake, networks really aren’t negligible “details.”  As I prepare to jet off to Vienna – at least physically leaving the Haverford network – I’ve come to realize just how important and immensely helpful networks can be.  Sometimes networks mean funny coincidences; my Sociology minor advisor’s good friend conveniently works two doors down from my dad.  But networks carry larger implications too.  For example, midway through the schlump-fest that is finals week, I ignored my trusty sweatpants, wriggled into interview ware instead, and headed to the city to see about a possible summer job.

Given my impending international adventures, over this past semester I’ve been making as many inroads as possible for summer employment.  That meant reaching out to the entirety of the Haverford network: from my friends, to alumni, to former colleagues, to former colleague’s friends, to professors, to professors’ colleagues… you get my drift.  It’s meant sending a lot of kind of awkward emails introducing myself to strangers.  They’re really only pseudo-strangers, though; there’s only one degree of separation from me and all of these possible employers – we’ve got some mutual friends on FB, let’s say.  I soon accumulated a growing list of names, phone numbers, and email addresses in the “Contacts” section of my planner, and all of a sudden, job opportunities, internships, and interviews started to materialize – all catalyzed by the Haverford network.

This has all been pretty informal, but tapping into these networks has also highlighted just how wonderfully, and formally, connected Haverford is.  Janice Lion, the domestic internship coordinator for the CPGC, for example, noted the many bridge programs the CPGC offers for those interested in education and education reform post undergraduate life.  I’m still focused on this summer’s employment options (whilst still beyond excited for Vienna!), but post-Haverford employment, aka real life employment, we’ll lovingly call it, looms.  In addition to the CPGC, our Career Development Office, or CDO, links current and graduating students with alumni, polishes resumes, and conducts mock interviews.  The CDO straddles one of the strongest networks, the Bi-Co, providing Haverford and Bryn Mawr students the resources and connections of both schools.  Knowing these established connections – in addition to the many that are just a phone call away – exist, is like a warm cup of “kaffee mit schlag” (coffee with whipped cream) to those real life employment woes.

Haverford’s community is incredibly strong, and from a friendship standpoint, it’s one of, if not my, favorite aspects of Haverford.  I have made some of the deepest and most genuine friendships here, and that’s been the best.  When all of these incredible friendships also become incredible links, that’s doubly the best.  So, the bestest?  I have just under a week left before it’s “Guten Tag” to Vienna, and “Aufwiedersehen” to Seattle and Haverford friends.  I really hate goodbyes, but I take solace in the fact that Skype is an incredible invention, I’m off on an adventure, my Haverford friendships and connections will remain strong, and this four-month hiatus is just another way of expanding that incredible network.  And I’ll have more FB friends to boot!

 


Catching Up…

Well it’s been a bit, and a lot has transpired. To facilitate the most efficient and accurate summation of this past month and a half (sorry guys) I’m going to descend into a bit of a stream of consciousness. Let’s see how this goes…

October brought the usual flurry of papers and midterms, but it also brought my family over from Seattle. Whilst here, I joked that they had a quintessential Haverford experience. First, we had dinner at the very delicious and local Peruvian Barbeque restaurant, Barbacoa. The family platter, complete with a whole roast chicken, pulled pork, ribs, and 2 pounds worth of sides, sufficed in feeding us all. So good. The next morning, we had bagels with my advisor and her family (she conveniently lives on campus, as do about half of our professors); my dad, a professor himself, joked that this would never happen at our house. Well, dear Papi, this is how we do it at Haverford. It was a thoroughly enjoyable brunch, with conversation ranging in topics from digitized course offerings to Boobah (look it up if you dare – I’ll just say it’s fitting for a three year old’s imagination). Next up, the fam and I watched our Centennial Conference champion men’s soccer team take on Gettysburg, whisked our way through a field hockey game, and gabbed with my friends from my freshmen year Customs group. And to conclude, we made the obligatory stop at WaWa for subs…

Hurricane Sandy punctuated October’s end, closing the college for two days. The campus was extraordinarily lucky and managed to escape any real damage. We lost power for maybe an hour in sum, and the only physical effect was some excessive pine needle blanketing. Our campus arboretum stood strong, and classes were back in swing on Wednesday. Those two days brought some welcome extra hours of sleep, movie marathons, and lots of parental phone calls (my dad called every other hour, though he insisted he wasn’t worried about me). Those phone calls weren’t unnecessary, as it turned out, and my friends and I were aware of how devastating the storm really was. The college has come together and many students are proposing various avenues for the Haverford community to aid those affected. Here’s the link for those interested:

www.haverford.edu/news/stories/65711/51

…Soon after, Gloria Steinem was on campus! I don’t throw exclamation points around often, but Gloria Steinem was seriously incredible. She shared a lot of simultaneously inspirational, insightful, and often satisfyingly sarcastic musings. My favorite? “We are linked, not ranked.” The societal (and feminist) implications of this statement are massive and incredibly important, but it really resonated with me as a Haverford student. This is something that the college really tries to embody, in the ways in which the student voice is, essentially, just as important as the administrative one, to our heavily discussion-based classrooms, to the interconnectedness of our alumni network. This isn’t a college predicated on hierarchy, and it’s one of the aspects of Haverford that I appreciate the most. Thank you, Gloria, for a wonderful visit and reminding me of yet another reason why I adore this college…

The election kicked the college into high voting gear. All partisanship aside, I’ve never seen so many Facebook statuses in my life telling everyone to vote. Various groups on campus set up voter registration tables, students were shuttling students to and from the local polling places all day, and sorry professors, absolutely no homework got done on Nov. 6; we were all glued to various screens. I made a huge pot of chili for my friends and myself, and we all huddled around my laptop, flitting between CNN and old SNL clips, as we awaited results. The election ended many group viewing sessions of debates, lots of late night political discussions, and canvassing by Haverford students… until the next four (more) years!

…Amongst all this, our fall sports teams were fantastic, bringing home half of the available Centennial Conference championships! Again, note the exclamation point. Both soccer teams, as well as our Men’s Cross Country teams were crowned champions this year, with Field Hockey and Women’s Cross Country winning second place, and our Volleyball team making the semi-finals before falling to the eventual champion, Franklin and Marshall. Those championships meant NCAA’s, so I decided to take all three extension days on one of my papers and head to Arcadia University for the Men’s Soccer games. There were so many Haverfordians there, from tons of students, to very vocal families, to professors and deans. We didn’t have any national championships (though the Men’s Cross Country team was close! 2nd place – congratulations, Goats!), but the whole college is so proud of all of our teams. Well done, well done, black squirrels!

The coffee I’ve been sipping as I’ve been writing is almost gone, so I guess it’s time to conclude. The holidays are upon us, and that means it’s getting to be crunch time at the college. Bring on those finals! But also, bring on that holiday music; I’m going to listen to Mariah Carey and relish my remaining few weeks of Haverford life until Winter break. Cheers, everyone!

Calling all students!

This past Sunday, the Haverford student body flocked to the athletic center to participate in Plenary. Plenary, held once in the fall and once in the spring, is a school-wide meeting for the entire student body to get together and vote on resolutions related to life here at Haverford. In the past, these have included additions to our Student Constitution or Honor Code, student support for administrative decisions, and changes the student body would like to see on campus.

Yet walking into Plenary in our basketball arena, the crowd is unrecognizable from what one might expect walking into a basketball game. Not only are the bleachers filled, but students have camped out on the floor with homework, snacks, and friends. Clubs have set up tables in the back on the gym, selling t-shirts and baked goods to raise money and keep their peers fed throughout this meeting. Our sound crew plays music while students chat and filter into the gym- each student being counted as the meeting cannot begin until at least 50% of the student body arrives. Student Council representatives run around the gym setting up chairs and tables while those presenting resolutions prepare their arguments for their proposals. As one of the co-secretaries of Honor Council, I have the pleasure of sitting at the front of the gym watching this entire scene unfold while frantically setting everything up in time for Plenary to begin.

Just before 7:00pm, over 50% of the student body has gathered in the gym and the meeting can begin. Our Student Council co-presidents introduce themselves, the vice-presidents and secretaries as well as the Honor Council co-chairs and secretaries. They review the agenda and the procedure for the meeting. Then, with a moment of silence followed by shouts of excitement, Plenary begins.

The first resolution this fall was a proposal to reduce the amount of paper towels used in our dorms. The presenters addressed the environmental impact of paper towel consumption as well as the cost of supplying paper towels. By reducing the amount of paper towels used in the dorms, we could lower our carbon footprint and save money, they argued. Following the proposal, the pro and con debate begun, drawing students to the microphones to argue for or against this idea. Some students questioned the practicality of this motion while others argued that becoming more environmentally conscious is a necessary step we as Haverford students must take. The debate continued past the allotted time and the students voted to extend the debate another fifteen minutes. Finally, when rounds of students had spoken at the microphones, it came time for a vote. Asking students to raise their blue Plenary packets (containing all of the resolutions in print) in favor of the resolution, the Student Council presidents surveyed the room and announced that the majority had voted in support of paper towel reduction.

From Plenary, this resolution will go to the administration and facilities, which will work to enact this resolution on behalf of the students. From the idea of a few students to a school wide initiative, this proposal will now become a part of Haverford’s day-to-day functioning as paper towel use is reduced along with our environmental waste. With the excitement around Plenary, friends all arriving together to buy cupcakes and get a spot on the floor, I loved watched each student’s role in this meeting whether it was my friend presenting, a freshmen hall all sitting together discussing the proposals, or a student running up to the microphone to add one last thought to the pro and con debate. By coming together as a community, even camped out on the basketball court floor, Plenary is our opportunity to take these ideas and run with them, gain student support, and turn them into reality.

To the Newest Members of the Haverford Community

As I write this, the sun dips below the Olympic mountain range, the lights of the Seattle skyline sparkle, and a blissful breeze billows my curtains. I am so happy to be home, relishing my time with family, hikes in the mountains, and lunch dates with high-school chums. Part of me, however, remains at Haverford in spirit…

 

This past Sunday, I spontaneously decided to go to the Seattle-based Haverford Class of 2016 Welcome Party. This is a chance for current students, newly minted Haverfordians (welcome!), and local alumni to connect before the freshmen class embarks on their own college experience. To be totally blunt, I hadn’t planned on going to this shindig; at this point, I had been away from Haverford for less than 24 hours and thought some separation from campus and the Haverford community might be needed. Silly me. Claire Perry ’14 and her family really out-hosted themselves – what a lovely home and such delicious food; thank you! The breakfast strata were wonderful, but it really was the get-together that made the afternoon so memorable.

One of many highlights includes reconnecting with a family I met on Open Campus Day; I had lunch with Anna and her mother that day, chatting about Haverford and the transition from Seattle to this community. I was also able to relive possibly my most embarrassing Admissions moment – and now I’m deciding to immortalize this magical moment online… here it goes! Anna’s mother was in the audience for the “Parents Only Panel” Admissions puts on for Open Campus Day – where parents have a few Haverford students and deans to their lonesome to grill – and therefore now knows my rather impressive commitment to familial connection. A west-coast mother had inquired as to how I deal with being so far from my family, and I perhaps foolishly, but very earnestly, shared that I call my parents on the daily. Plenty of parental applause and personal blushing soon followed.

There was more to my answer than that, even if that’s what ended up sticking. I also emphasized the close relationships you craft with your Customs group and the rest of the Haverford community, and those make the sting of the distance less. Throughout this blog, I’ve dubbed the Haverford community as the summation of current students, faculty, and staff. These are integral elements of my collegiate family – I can’t tell you how heartwarming it is to be welcomed into a friend’s home, or to have dinner with your professor and her family – but “community” really extends to everyone who’s been somehow impacted by the college.

Working in the Admissions Office this summer afforded many memorable moments, but my interactions with alumni were perhaps the most poignant. They ranged in age, from the class of ’52 to the late ‘80’s, but they all shared a commitment to the values of this campus. They emphasized how they adored what a caring community they came from, and how they really try to embody those values – namely, trust, concern, and respect – in their post-Haverford lives.

Meeting Melissa Lanctot, ’00, and Ari Worthman, ’02, both of whom were in attendance on Sunday, only concretized the sentiment. Here we were in Seattle, thousands of miles away from campus, but we might as well have been having a conversation over a DC table. It’s funny how you find commonalities within the community. Sure, Melissa and I have both taken classes with some of the same professors, Ari and I could each contribute moments of hilarity from the Haverford Admissions Office, but it’s much more than that. We recognize what a special place Haverford is, and whether a current or former student, we carry a little bit of campus around with us.

So, maybe to amend my Parents’ Panel answer: I love my family dearly, and I try to call them everyday because I want to hear how their day has been, to know what my fair city is up to, and to keep them up to date with my collegiate life. But Haverford is my home now, and the community – including alumni, family, and friends of the college – has become my very large, very extended, if non-genetic family. That makes the distance of a 6-hour flight seem nominal at worst.

Finally, one thing I didn’t mention during the emotional shuffle of the Parents’ Panel: My father now adamantly states that he doesn’t miss me when I’m gone. This is partly to bother me, but there’s a legitimacy to his jest; he knows how wonderfully happy I am across the country, so he’s happy too. To the class of 2016 parents, you will miss your kid. They will miss you too. But they will also have the time of their lives. Take solace in the fact that your child has come to a place where they can be wholly content, and in the fact that you are now also a part of the greater Haverford community. And maybe, if Parents’ Panel participants adopt my practices, you can look forward to daily phone calls too.

 

A ferry now sweeps through Puget Sound. How fortunate I am to live in such a gorgeous city, and how very, very fortunate I am to be a part of an omnipresent community. I might as well be watching the geese glide through the duck pond…

From The Bachelorette to Annette Lareau: Some Educational and Academic Insights

I’m ashamed to say I watch such excellent smut as The Bachelorette.  I get sucked into the fantasy, reveling in the brilliant extravagance of it all, and rooting for the sweet, witty (also the sanest) guy with the cool haircut.  So yeah, that’s embarrassing.

I was at my friend’s apartment the other night, indulging in the drama of a scorned suitor and rudely critiquing Emily’s (the lovely bachelorette) parenting skills of her daughter, Ricki.  Can you imagine?  Running around the world randomly while your mom “dates” these guys?  Yeesh. Had I been by my lonesome, I would’ve continued the punchiness, remarking on Emily’s clear plastic surgery or something like that, but since I was with my Haverford friends, the conversation took a turn for the intellectual.

Last semester I took two education classes: Critical Issues in Education, the introductory Education course, and Sociology of Education, a Bryn Mawr Sociology class cross listed in the Education department.  For brevity’s sake, I will only say that these classes were easily the most influential in my thinking and career aspirations thus far; I want to be involved in the education system because of these classes.

Both required Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods.  An ethnographic study, Lareau synthesizes her experiences with twelve different families, exploring the major educational implications of the disparate observed childrearing strategies.  Lareau’s work was deeply resonant and catalytic for my own (re)thinking about the formative nature of the education system, and still colors much of my sociological and educational perspective.  I see the implications of her work everywhere…

 

 

…even incipiently in The Bachelorette.   My co-viewer and friend is also an Education minor, so our conversation deviated from analyzing Ricki’s conversational contributions (a dragon lives in Buckingham Palace… brilliance) to the inextricable relationship between childhood and educational performance.  We noted the fact that Emily is clearly in a comfortable financial stratum, and therefore able to provide Ricki with an education that can cater to and probably encourages international travels.  This is kind of in jest, since Ricki isn’t actually the best example of Lareau’s theories, (being an indirect reality TV star at the age of six isn’t quite indicative of her demographic), but even though the genesis of the conversation was less than serious, our sentiment certainly was.

We did manage to have a more sophisticated conversation, reflecting on our own, reality TV-free childhoods.  We reminisced on the international travel we were lucky enough to experience, our parents’ commitment to our educations, the many clubs we were involved in (these are all elements of one of Lareau’s observed theories, “concerted cultivation”), and how these had parlayed brilliantly into our current educational status.  We were also cognizant, however, of the situations that don’t coincide so well with the education system.  It’s a conversation that I’m incredibly invested in, and while I could bombard the internet with my educational opinions, I will just say that our conversation was simultaneously frustrating and inspiring, far more so than Emily’s amore musings.  By the time we had come down from our educational soapboxes, some guy named “Wolf” (who???) was crying over something, and another guy with an oddly shaped head was making inappropriate and fairly misogynistic jokes.  And so, we had left the real world and its real issues and returned to the fantastic/ridiculous.

This aspect of the Haverford academic culture – the balance of seriously intellectual and thoroughly non-academic – is something that I celebrate and adore.  There’s this moment during your freshmen year where you realize that everyone on this campus is wicked smaht and it’s the most exhilarating dawning.  These are the students that you’re lucky enough to learn from, but they’re also your friends.  You consequently get an academic climate at Haverford that’s constantly curious, but fun and relaxed at the same time.  So, my advice for incoming Haverford freshmen: make sure you keep up with your favorite television offerings, invest in your intellect, and that will inevitably spill out of the classroom into a confluence of the academic and the light-hearted.  Relish this balance; it is far more beautiful than any bachelorette.

Closing Time…

This song has been in my head recently. So many perfect lines: Time for you to go out into the world. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. It seems somehow all too fitting for the end of college. (I won’t even get into “It’s the End of the World As We Know It“, which is also true).

So it’s been quite the few weeks since I last wrote. I’m sorry for my absence, but maybe after reading, you’ll choose to forgive me. Here are some of the highlights that I can remember right now:

  • -The Librarian of the College cleaned my clock in our all-school skeeball tournament. (Well, she scored a 300 and I got a 250).
  • I turned in my thesis on April 20. It finished at 33,000 words and 114 pages.

The finished product!

This was the largest reason that I wasn’t capable of doing anything else. It was a huge project and I’m very proud of how it turned out, but sometimes it felt as physically exhausting as the runs I did to take a break from writing!

  • During one of those frantic I-need-a-break-from-writing runs, I completed my fastest loop of campus (1.7 miles in 13:50 for a sub-8:00 mile pace).
  • I attended my last college class (math, fittingly enough) and handed in my last college assignment (a political science paper, of course).
  • My friends and I rang Founders’ Bell, a senior tradition.

You use a mallet, apparently--this was a surprise to me!

  • And yesterday, I competed in a four-hour Philadelphia scavenger hunt, coming in third!

"Take a picture with a complete stranger outside the Convention Center"

Somehow I managed to continue with everyday life (job applications and interviews, tours and other work in admission, homework besides thesis, making it to the gym every day…) but as I look back I’m not 100% sure where the time went.

Actually, take that sentence, and multiply it by four, and that’s how I feel about my college career. This is one of my last days at school, and I’m trying to think back on four years, and it’s very hard. The best analogy I’ve got is this: If you’ve ever embarked on a weight lifting program, you’ll know that you have to start small. Maybe you’re only benching 30 pounds when you start. But sure enough, you can move to 40, then 50, then 60. But each time you bump up, you know it because you’re using larger weights and you’re sore the next day!

Somehow, through college, I’ve become someone capable of benching a lot, but it sort of snuck up on me! Each paper you write, each guest speaker you hear, each article you dissect, you become a better student, better thinker, better scholar…but you don’t notice until you step back and look at the whole picture. In more ways than I can count, I’ve gained SO much from these four years. It’s not just about academics, though that was undeniably the center of my experience. It’s about all those corny things too: self-understanding and self-awareness and personal growth and transformation and blah blah blah. (I’m not usually good at the sentimental, so this was actually a pretty good paragraph for me).

There are so many posts I wanted to write and never did. There will be so much I’ll want to say that I can’t. There was much I wanted to do but couldn’t. But, in the end, I can’t, rationally, have any regrets: I got so much out of my Haverford years and I’ll always be grateful for my time here. I don’t know how I’ll cope with leaving, but everyone seems to manage, so I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

My friends and I were talking recently about what we might like to say, given the chance, to sum up our Haverford experience. I’ve attached my thoughts at the end of this post because I feel strongly about what I said there.

I did want to close by saying that one way in which I’d like to stay connected to the Haverford community is by always being a resource for anyone considering the college. Please feel free to reach out anytime that you discover this blog (hi future readers!). You can reach me at h.solomonstrauss (at) gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you, no matter the content of your email! (I really truly mean that, more seriously than I’ll be able to convince you, so just shoot me a note and see for yourself!)

Thanks for reading this year! And thanks, Haverford, for everything.

My final thoughts:

When we graduated high school, we probably all heard the same advice. ‘College will be the most important years of your life. You’re not a kid anymore. It’s time to get serious, because this time, it’s the real world.’ Clearly, those speakers didn’t know we were headed to Haverford. So before we take the next step, maybe we should think for a moment about the world we’re leaving, the world of Haverford College.

The “real world” works very differently here. Driving on to campus, you pass a sign at the entrance that reads, “Private Property.” But then, beneath that, and in larger letters, it says, “Visitors Welcome.” When we pulled up outside the dorms on move-in day, our cars were swarmed by Customs People in brightly colored shirts, telling us how excited they were that we’d arrived, and carrying our things to our rooms. Rule Number One: no one moves themselves into Haverford. Right away, you have a family, one that never really goes away as long as you’re here.
We all have stories about unlocked bikes or laptops left unattended for hours, or the simple kindness of classmates who seek us out to return lost belongings. When people ask, “How are you?”, they care about the answer. The arboretum uses the all-campus email list to tell us how the trees are doing. Sometimes we’re late for class after an unexpectedly long lunch where we debated the DC workers about the prowess of our respective intramural basketball teams. Have you ever turned a corner, spotted a tree in full bloom, and found yourself stopping to stare? What about that first nice day in the spring, when the pinwheels appear on Founders Green, glinting in the sunlight?

Think about the time since move-in day: all those experiments you ran, all those hours in SuperLab. Think of your thesis, and of all the research you put into it. But our time here isn’t just measured by specific milestones, it’s everything put together. We juggled school, sports, committees, friends, fun, even sleep–sometimes, it wasn’t clear how everything was going to get done. But it always did, and that feeling of accomplishment was the surest sign we were growing into Haverford.

Our education here was not meant to be comfortable; it was meant to provoke, to stretch, to enrich. In class, we heard points of view we had never before considered, and so the conversation continued at the gym, on the green, and late into the night in common rooms. We owe more than we can say to the incredible professors who have challenged and inspired us. If you finish at Haverford after four years with the same ideas, same opinions, and same skills that you had during your first week, then it didn’t work, did it? But whether measured by academic enrichment, athletic achievement, or any other standard, Haverford has ‘worked’ for all of us.

And so we spent four years in not-quite-the-real-world, and it’s time for us to give the real, real world a try. But for the rest of our lives, “Haverford Class of 2012” is going to be one of the most accurate descriptors of our approaches to problems and solutions, to challenges and understanding, to learning, to community, to the world, to life. We will be taking a lot with us from this place– and, frankly, the real world out there could use a little more ‘trust, concern, respect.’ They say that “home is not where you live, but where they understand you,” and I can’t think of any group for whom that is more accurate. You get a family on day one, and no matter where you go from here, Haverford will always be home.

But because this is Haverford, I can’t end on a sentiment like that. Yes, hard work got us here, and that deserves to be recognized, but we had a lot of fun along the way. Haverford has always been about knowing how to not take ourselves too seriously. So I’d like finish by dedicating a poem to the class of 2012. It’s a poem of hope and uncertainty, of the future and the past, of confidence and self-questioning. It was written by someone whose great literary works, which reflect a keen understanding of the real world, are taught a little earlier than the freshman writing seminar. I mean Dr. Seuss, of course.

“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang, and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t.
Because sometimes you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups will happen to you.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! 98 and three-quarters percent guaranteed.”

As we take our next step into the world, remember how real this world has been, and remember that here at Haverford, you’ll always have a home.