Students Share Diverse Experiences with Drugs

The Claremont colleges bring together a wide assemblage of students with diverse experiences in regards to drugs and alcohol. While some decide to make drinking or doing drugs a part of their lives, others choose to stay clean and sober. TSL presents a sampling of the stories behind these decisions, and some might surprise you.

Nigel Brady PO ’14

Brady attended an inner-city magnet high school in downtown Sacramento where, like most high school kids, he wanted to fit in with his friends. Many of his friends drank and did drugs. The summer after his first year, he and his friends started drinking and smoking marijuana. Soon, Brady began smoking and drinking three times a week, every week. His friends began investing in other drugs—specifically cocaine.

“There was definitely social peer pressure in terms of starting,” Brady said. “But stopping was something completely different.”

One night, he and his friends were intoxicated and under the influence. 

“At the drop of a hat, I was crystal clear,” Brady said. “In that moment there was a singular train of thought going through my mind, about the complete duplicity and hypocrisy of the life I was leading.” 

Brady said he felt like he was wasting all of the things he had been given. Brady grew up going to church and his grandfather was a pastor. While he did not have a deeply personal commitment to faith, Christianity was an integral part of his family life and something he had never questioned, but nothing about his lifestyle coincided with those beliefs.

“It was very disturbing,” Brady said.

And so, for the first time since he started drinking, he prayed of his own volition. He prayed constantly for ten days.

“God, if you want me to change, if you want me to get out of this, then I could really use someone who could help me do that.”

On the eleventh day, he saw a girl, Megan, sitting in his usual seat in church. He had met her before, but this time everything was different. 

“I swear I did a triple-take,” he said.

Brady said she was the sign he was waiting for, and it turns out she had been praying for someone to come into her life as well. Megan and Brady are still dating today.

Brady did not drink or smoke for the rest of high school. He lost all his former friends, but he made new friends. For the first time in his life, he felt his religious faith to be a deeply personal commitment.

“From then on, I made the very deliberate choice to not partake in [that lifestyle], because the conviction that I felt that night was extremely powerful,” Brady said. “It was something that I just could not ignore.”

Coming into college, Brady knew that the party scene was not for him, and he chose substance-free housing in order to find a community of like-minded people.

Playing on the P-P soccer team, Brady met Danny Nasry PO ’13, who introduced him to the Christian community at Pomona, where he has met some of his best friends. Instead of partying, Brady said that one of his favorite things to do with his friends on a Friday night is talk about theology and philosophy in the Harwood towers.

“I’m not against drinking,” Brady said. “I think some of the best conversations come out of a bunch of people coming together over a good-quality beer.”

He enjoys an occasional beer or a glass of scotch while playing chess with his father. But he avoids drinking for the sake of drinking because of his faith.

“It would be hard to have the same religious faith as me and have a lifestyle where drinking and partying is a priority,” he said.

Helen Liu CM ’14

Liu grew up in a suburb of Seattle. She was not part of the party scene at her high school.

“I was kind of a loser in high school,” Liu said, laughing. “My parents never talked to me about [drinking or doing drugs], because they never thought it would be an issue for me.”

In her junior year of high school, Liu started dating an older swimmer. Her boyfriend did not drink, and to her knowledge still does not, because he did not like “how alcohol gives people an excuse to do stupid things,” Liu said.

Liu described most of her friends in high school as “straight-edge” kids who were serious swimmers. Surrounded by her boyfriend and her swimming friends, drinking or doing drugs did not become part of her social life.

Liu decided to drink for the first time because she wanted to know what it was like before coming to college. Late in her senior year of high school, she took a bottle of her parents’ vodka and consumed it in their entertainment room with her best friend. They took shots every 15 minutes.

“We were just like, ‘Oh, now we know,’” she recalled with a smile.

Liu said she always figured she’d drink once she got to college, but throughout her first year at Claremont McKenna College she continued her high school lifestyle and did not drink often or do any drugs.

Her high school boyfriend went to University of Redlands, and they dated throughout her first year at college. Most weekends she visited her boyfriend, and she rarely partied with her friends at CMC. If she did drink, she said she would think, “This is kind of silly that I’m doing this.” She said she never brought it up with her boyfriend because he was judgmental of people who drank.

At the end of her first year, they broke up.

“Starting sophomore year I was literally a different person. Everyone tells me that,” Liu said. “I was more fun.”

Liu directly attributes this change to breaking up with her boyfriend. She started going out once or twice a week and drinking or occasionally smoking marijuana with her friends.

“I have become significantly more open to drugs and drinking. Now that I know more people who do them, I feel more comfortable with them,” Liu said.

Her friends felt like she finally started being herself. She felt free.

“I don’t worry that it will affect me negatively, because I have common sense,” she said. “I feel great about my decision.”

Kevin Jones* PO ’14

Jones grew up in a small town in northern California. Everyone there went to the same high school, and “you’ve known most people since about second grade,” Jones said. Downtown is two blocks with a candy store and a movie theater.

When Jones was a senior in high school, he was a straight-A student, a lacrosse player, and the football captain. He was also the only one on both of his sports teams who did not drink or do any drugs.

“Anything you did in my town became front page news,” Jones said. He knew that one mistake could ruin a chance to play collegiate athletics.

His parents told him to do what he wanted, but to be smart and proud of what he did. So he weighed his options and decided to stay completely sober.

“It was part of who I was,” Jones said. “I built this identity, but it was an identity I was comfortable with because I was so driven and I wanted to do these things.”

Jones came to Pomona College partly because he felt like he could have fun being sober here. After visiting as a prospective student, he felt welcomed, because there was little pressure to drink.

“It wasn’t like I thought I couldn’t drink, but I hadn’t drunk [in high school], and I didn’t want to show up acting like I had,” Jones said. “I just wanted to feel out the situation and wait until I felt more comfortable.”

Jones stayed sober throughout his first year. But by the end of the year he began to question some of his beliefs and decisions about his lifestyle.

“You get to college and you start changing your goals,” Jones said.

He still does not know what specifically prompted these changes, but he realized many of his views were actually habits masked as beliefs. He decided that drinking could become a positive part of his life.

After waiting for so long, he wanted his first time drinking to be a special occasion. Following a big win for Pomona-Pitzer earlier this year, he tasted beer for the first time. After years of watching the party as the designated driver, he joined in the drunken celebration with his teammates.

Jones said he also tried marijuana for the first time a couple weeks ago.

“I always thought I was going to drink at some point in my life, but not do drugs,” he said. “In the back of my mind I thought, ‘Drugs are bad, don’t go down that road.’”

However, a Costco container of blueberries, a jar of Nutella, and a box of Fig Newtons later, Jones decided that marijuana is not so bad after all.

“I don’t plan on making it more than a social part of my life,” said Jones. “I don’t want to experiment a lot. I just want to enjoy life and have a good time.”

Each college student has a different relationship with drugs and alcohol. Some of us have been using them for a long time, some of us more recently, and some of us not at all. College is a unique intersection of these different paths into a common space of overlapping social scenes.

So for anyone else rethinking their views about drinking or doing drugs, Jones said, “Throw peer pressure out the window, throw everything else out the window and think, ‘What do I want?’ Just be open to new experiences.”

*Name has been changed.

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