The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Relax, look around, realize it is all beautiful!

“And right ahead of us is North Campus…as we approach, do you all have any questions about residence hall life or anything else that I’ve mentioned so far?”

“Yeah, how old is that tree?”

In just one week of giving campus tours to prospective students, I’d already had a couple of ringers thrown my way—grasping for an answer to this one, I blinked a few times at the enormous tree in front of Clark Hall. But this enthusiastic dad interrupted my estimations, insisting, “It’s got to be at least two-hundred years old, older than the College for sure.” The tour groups’ heads craned upwards, I tucked the observation into the back of my mind as I launched into the next part of my spiel.

The point of this anecdote is an old one—remarkable things become just a background to our daily lives, until someone points out the beauty of what you have. It could go one of two ways: there’s Joni Mitchell’s “paved paradise” of parking lots and not knowing what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, or there’s the chance to take a step back and appreciate what you have while you still can. It’s the season of earnestness and crispening leaves that herald the back to school bell— it’s the season of advice about how to make this year your best yet! So, I’d like to offer my own piece of wisdom out of all this. Whether during your morning stumble to ARH or while commiserating with a fellow returning student over coffee in the Grille, try and see Grinnell again through the eyes of a new student, and appreciate all we have here.

We were all there once, our own enthusiastic dads and moms whispering excitedly about all the amenities campus tour guides point out (“Over a million volumes in the library! That will be great when you’re writing the Great American Novel as an undergraduate at small private liberal arts college!” “Health services drive you to the doctor! Now I can sleep soundly knowing you’re safe if your asthma flares in those dusty dorm rooms!”) At the risk of sounding nostalgic (guilty —I am nostalgic!), I ask you to recall those first days of college when everything was stunning.

I wandered through the loggias enchanted by Grinnell, just beaming to myself as I tried to get over how much I, like Asher Roth, loved college. Luckily my entrée with the volleyball team eased some of the friend-making pressure, so I didn’t have to worry about being “that beaming girl”; I was already “that tall freshman” and “that girl who always wears dresses.” There was a lot stacked against me in those first few days of Grinnell. But what I did have in my favor was a pair of eager eyes that fell on all the good happening around me — even the pork vindaloo! Even my roommate (ahem, Ruth Campbell ’11) making me go to breakfast everyday with her at 7 a.m. before our 8 a.m. classes! Even scrambling up and down a ladder of a lofted dorm bed! (Ok…I might have known that was terrible from day one.) Whatever the situation, my “Grinnell goggles” shone rose-colored.

The best thing is that for those of us who have already learned a few things the hard way, we have trained eyes. For the second year who still loves Harris parties but knows better —not from experience or anything— than to drink four glasses of jungle juices before anyone is anywhere near declaring, “Let’s go to Harris!!!”—with the “mature” outlook of a third year relishing their “chill get together with a bottle of wine” bought by a newly 21-year-old friend—or even us fourth years, who live so far away from Harris that thought of walking all the way across campus makes our arthritis act up.

The challenge is wiping the accumulated dirt off our two, three, okay four-year-old Grinnell goggles and, seeing our college, our faculty, our facilities, our location, our peers, through those clean lenses again. But it’s an essential challenge to overcome because the eyes with which we see our school shape the attitudes that we bring to class, the people that we let in, the people that we shut out, the minds that engage with one another, the intentions and actions that shape our community. Let’s capitalize on the freshness of the school year and honor the incoming class by starting fresh, and wiping our Grinnell goggles clean.

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