Right now I have exactly one week until I’ll be a graduate of Carleton College, a “bachelorette of the arts” as my dad has been saying. So I suppose it’s time for the big finishing-up reflective post. It’s actually kind of hard to write this kind of thing now, because I’m sure the things I’ve learned and what’s been valuable will become clearer as I go on in life. Nevertheless there are a couple things that are clear to me right now, so I’ll write about those.
One is the fact that being a sociology/anthropology major has definitely changed or at least enhanced the way I think about the world. There’s a kind of hokey but also deeply true phrase that comes up a lot when anthropologists talk about the effect of the anthropological mindset, which is “familiarizing the exotic and exoticizing the familiar”. That’s been exactly my experience with studying sociology and anthropology – things that I wasn’t even aware existed, like “ghost marriage” among the Nuer of Sudan, have become familiar and started to make sense. But even more potent has been the effect that my studies have had on how I view my own everyday world. Everything, when viewed through the lens of the enormous cultural difference there is in the world, begins to seem strange and almost accidental, and therefore fascinating. Nothing is a given anymore; everything is up for questioning. I’ve spent hours talking about, for example, why we in the US value hard work more than leisure. But this strangeness has also begun to cover even smaller things and even spilled over into the non-cultural – I look at a chair and wonder how it was made and where, and why the person making it went into carpentry (or factory work), and why the person who bought it chose that chair rather than a different style of chair. Obviously this can become overwhelming at times, and I have to turn off the lens of strangeness in order to just get things done. But overall it has made the world more beautiful, and given life a constant savor of newness and wonder. So, a genuine thank you to all my professors and fellow majors, because I honestly don’t see a way I can go wrong in life if everything continues to seem new and interesting.
The second thing is that I’ve met the best people I’ve ever known here, and I can only faintly hope that anyone I meet from now on will be able to stand up to them. I’ve met the most intelligent, open, hilarious, kind of crazy, fun-loving, intractably individual weirdos (meant lovingly) here, and they’ve taught me so much about how people can be wildly different and still come together and learn. I’ve learned about the “Seattle freeze” (when you first meet someone in Seattle, they tend to be quiet and aloof, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you and eventually they’ll warm up as you see them more). I’ve learned that having been a flaming redhead in a Bay Area high school that’s 70 percent Asian makes you surprised when you see more than a couple white people in the same place. I’ve learned that in Austin, Texas it’s not uncommon to see a car with several rifles in the backseat and vegan bumper stickers all over the trunk. I’ve learned that sometimes in Minnesota, you cross-country ski to the library just for fun when the streets are two feet deep in snow. I’ve learned that having one Jewish parent, like I do, can mean anything from keeping completely kosher and going to services weekly to being raised as an evangelical Christian in Oklahoma. That’s why when anyone from my hometown asks if they should stay in Massachusetts for college or go farther afield, I unequivocally tell them to leave, if only for a little while.
But it’s not just the geographic and cultural aspects I’ve appreciated, it’s the deep intellectual and emotional honesty of the people I’ve become friends with. A few nights ago one of my friends organized a gathering where we sat on Mai Fete island around a campfire and each person had ten minutes to say something extremely personal and meaningful to them. Of course I can’t share those stories here, but suffice it to say that a many tears were shed and many hugs were given. Afterwards, we decided to drive to Perkin’s, the only 24-hour restaurant in town, and order breakfast at 3 in the morning. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much immediately after crying so much in my life. It’s been hard to get everyone together lately since everyone is so wrapped up in school on one hand and the future on the other, but when you finally succeed it’s fantastic.
So I guess that’s my last post. By way of making this more relevant to admissions, I’ll just add that if you are in the next crop of Carls (2016, wow that definitely sounds like the future) I hope you keep these kinds of things alive – open up to everything, to your studies and your friends, and let them change you. People put a lot of emphasis on accomplishment, here and everywhere else, but for me Carleton was about discovery. Don’t let your drive to achieve distract you from what’s really being offered here, which is the opportunity to incorporate everything into your worldview and come out different and hopefully better for it.