Take it From Me: An Alum’s Sage Advice

Welcome (back) to Claremont! You are here to learn, to tackle the big questions, and to become great citizens. You also have another more urgent question to answer: How do I college? What should I do, or not do, to have an awesome time and not end up a regretful mess?

I am here to help by talking to alumni about what went right, and more importantly what went wrong, in their college days so you current students can hopefully do it better.

Why should you listen to me? You shouldn’t. Just kidding, of course you should—I’m the best thing that has ever happened to you.

A bit about me: I graduated Pomona 2001. I majored in linguistics, ran cross country and track all four years, and was a sophomore sponsor, a junior RA, and an OA leader. I threw some parties that I'm rather proud of (including participation in the record-setting Beer Mile, may it R.I.P.) In the name of helping those coming after me have a better time, I spoke at first-year orientation about how no one at Pomona ever has sex, so just give that up now (not a completely accurate sentiment, but the speech really happened). In other words, I did a lot in school and I want to help.

This project started as a conversation with my great friend and fellow Pomona alumnus J.B. Waterman. We often speak about Pomona and really connected on how our college experience was so different than what we had hoped or expected—it was way lamer.

We killed ourselves in high school to get into college, fantasizing about an epic, romantic, and wild experience. College was the promised land of parties, pranks, brilliant conversations, deep connections, adventures, getting past first base, meeting women who actually wanted to go past first base, and doing badass academic work while becoming an adult. That's why we worked so hard in high school to finally thrive in college. Right? Right?!?!

In reality, we showed up to find a much more confusing situation with a bunch of people who were kind of like us in ways we didn’t always like; equally inexperienced and clueless while subject to constant overthinking. I’ve come to realize that whimsy, adventure, romance and actual-not-just-imagined-sex are, in my experience, largely incompatible with being clueless and overthinking. PSA: You can and should establish consent and use protection without overthinking.

Rally as we might, each semester looked the same. We arrived super psyched to do all this awesome stuff and have it be amazing, but within a couple of weeks we found ourselves, well, not psyched, not doing awesome stuff, and certainly not feeling amazed, or even particularly connected to our classmates let alone collegial.

What gives? The first issue was my own unrealistic expectations. What I knew about college was gleaned from college viewbooks (too glossy), movies about college (too vulgar), stories from older kids I knew in high school (too exaggerated) and, most of all, my own fantastical projections of what I wanted it to be (too escapist). Claremont is sort of some, but not really any of these things. Small, cozy schools full of brilliant over-achievers.

I wasn’t the smart one; everyone was the smart one. Not exactly DTF party animals.

The second issue was me. I had my charm, but I was kind of a mess. I was mostly clueless, often obnoxious, unreasonably horny, dealing with undiagnosed depression, and new to the game of college. I had a lot to learn about myself and my new life, but for whatever dumb reason I seemed to think everyone around me knew what was up—they really didn't—so I freaked out about making any mistakes.  

This is where I come in to *try* to help. Rather than generalized, gauzy, nostalgia-rife advice that could apply to anybody, I intend to share real alumni candidly speaking about how they specifically screwed up, how they were stupid, clueless, anxious, depressed, or ignorant—because everyone is—and how they could have made their college experience a bit more awesome.

So I’ll go first, and speak to 19-year-old me: “Adam, if you are into/maybe friends/maybe flirting with a girl, and you aren’t sure where you stand but you somehow end up in bed together with your faces two inches apart, there is a really, really good chance she wants to kiss you more than she doesn’t want to kiss you. Do not overthink this, chicken out, and then be surprised if she stops hanging out with you. Make. A. Move.”

Any alumni interested in participating, or students interested in flattery, email me at adambke@gmail.com

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