First-Year Frolic: Hilary hijinks

A drawing of a tiny hurricane roped off in “caution” tape. Three people stand behind the tape, looking down unimpressed at the hurricane.
(Max Ranney • The Student Life)

Picture this: You are a first-year who has just arrived on campus with the promise of sunny, picturesque, clear blue-skied Southern California. You’ve barely finished unloading your luggage when suddenly, everyone is talking about an incoming HURRICANE, California’s first in 84 years!

This was the reality for the class of 2027, a collection of bemused first-years on their own for the first time, wondering if they should’ve packed a canoe along with their bedspread. I myself was one of these first-years. Move-in day and orientation had an underlying anxiety because soon enough we would be hit with the ultimate hazing ritual: a natural disaster.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Hilary’s arrival I kept busy by collecting two of every animal to save them from the storm, which took more money than I would’ve hoped out of my tuition fund — arcs are expensive. These days were filled with uncertainty. An email was sent out by Campus Safety with preparation instructions: sign up for weather updates, be ready for a blackout, avoid flooded areas, etc. The instructions proved to be helpful and provided a sense of security for me.

Still, we are a campus of Gen Zers, and when faced with a crisis our primary response strategy is jokes. We embraced the impending chaos by putting a post-ironic spin on it. “Welcome to sunny California!”, “Nice weather we’re having,” “Oh yeah, I heard there was gonna be a tiny bit of rain.” Embracing the absurd situation helped ease the tension and lead to some early bonding though our fear-induced comradery. We settled down for our first night away from home to await the hurricane rolling into Southern California in the morning.

I went to bed that night worried, but woke up completely calm. I expected to be awoken by a thunderclap or a rock flying through my window or worse — the entirety of Mudd-Blaisdell Hall just collapsing on itself, completely leaving nothing but rubble and crushed vending machine snacks. Instead, I was greeted with a silent, cloudy, peaceful morning. Tranquility before a calamitous event. Calm before the storm.

Except the calm lasted most of the day, and the storm itself was referred to by many students as simply ‘mid.’ Just very heavy rain, easily negated by an umbrella or a roof or a really really wide cowboy hat. This was the kind of rain you could sing in if you were Gene Kelly. No winds, no lightning, just water trickling. It was almost cozy. Like the kind of weather that taps against your windowpane while enjoying a good book or sitting by a fire.

The rain came, soaked everyone on campus and left. No harm was done to the 5Cs that day besides wet clothes and smelly socks. This seemingly cataclysmic, life-altering event turned out to just be an average rain storm anywhere but California. All of our anxiety leading up to it had been for nothing, like getting a flu shot and realizing it didn’t hurt. Hilary was almost disappointingly normal. As glad as I am that the wellbeing of Claremont was not threatened by Hurricane Hilary, a tornado made out of lightning would’ve been pretty gnarly. Maybe next year …

Hurricane Hilary was a lesson in how fear can be so much worse than whatever it’s anticipating. For a person with anxiety such as myself, this is not an uncommon phenomenon. Imagining something can be so much worse than experiencing it. The paranoia we felt before the hurricane was the worst of what Hurricane Hilary had to offer.

And believe it or not, I am grateful that the threat of a historic natural disaster decided to manifest itself on my first day of college because despite my fear, everything ended up being okay. Perhaps my prayers to Zeus were answered or sometimes anxiety is not trustworthy. The storm altered my view of the years to come. Moving to a new state, starting at a new school, making a life in a new place and doing it all on your own can be incredibly scary. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe a hurricane won’t be as bad as you think … and we could definitely use the rain.

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