Reminiscing on the Prospective Student Experience

The sun is not shining in Claremont. The prospective students don’t seem fazed by this, despite the obvious disconnect from the sun-drenched Pomona for which all their brochures, mailers and info sessions have prepared them. Dressed soberly and better than I ever was at their age, they simply observe the rain-misted buildings around them, any comments forming inside their heads kept to themselves. The resulting silence is filled in by a patter of tour guide spiel and occasional chuckles from the one mom who’s tagging along. 

Though I’m on assignment, and scribbling away dutifully in my notebook, I’m not really paying attention to what the guides say. It’s a warm word-bath of stats and anecdotes any Pomona student could dredge from the corners of their memory—seven-to-one professor to student ratio, loving SpoGro families, dinners at professors’ houses—that soothes with its familiarity. As I let myself sink into it, a sort of doubling effect results. I look at the buildings around me and they seem to shimmer and shift—one moment the familiar setting of my daily life, the next unfamiliar structures, strange and enticing once again.

Anything could happen here, I had thought on the sunny April day I first stepped on campus, walking among the jewel-green lawns and fragrant trees. The campus itself seemed to make a private promise: I am here just for you. Come here, and I will personally ensure that you are happy, each and every day.

Of course, any half-bright adolescent could figure out that such perfection is impossible, and I knew it then, too. But happiness is a powerful idea, and even its possibility is so intoxicating that it’s easy to forget your doubts. I can’t tell, looking at their expressionless faces, whether the prospies today feel as I did; maybe it’s all a question of the weather. Maybe it is those statistics that appeal to them, or the gleaming science buildings and dark-wooded philosophy classrooms. Maybe I was the only one who wanted something no institution can give. But I think that if any of them end up here next fall, it will be, at least partially, because they too wanted to believe in the possibility of constant happiness. 

They will find then, as I did, that the dream doesn’t come true for anyone. It isn’t that a promise was broken, but that it was a mistake to imagine such a promise in the first place, to let ourselves project our private fantasies onto what is, ultimately, just a collection of objects and people grouped under the name “Pomona.” But I hope they will also find that reality is better than that dream. Not happier, certainly: They will at times be intensely lonely, confused, angry, frustrated, sad. They will be disappointed in love and friendship. They will probably take on more far more than they can handle. I know I did. But that’s what living is, and even in the rain, Pomona College is a beautiful place to be.

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