This week features JB Waterman, one of my closest friends. He might be my favorite takeaway from my time at Pomona. I remember meeting him as a freshman and, like most everyone else, being impressed with his charisma, sense of humor, and radiant energy. After many conversations with him about how we wish we could have gotten more from college, I decided to launch this column. I hope you enjoy what he has to say about how judgmental we can get in college, and how that blinds us to the myriad opportunities that exist only there. Enjoy!
JB Waterman, PO ‘01, straight, male, white. LA-based actor, teacher, and Griffith Observatory lecturer
Major: American History, though spent most of the time in theater.
Check your expectations: I hoped college would be like a carnival of learning, ideas, and action. I thought everybody would be doing something really cool and hatching creative and artistic enterprises, then in between would be wild and exhilarating parties. What I found was that people were just trying to get their work done … and maybe have a little fun on the side.
I’m not mad that college was that way, I just think my expectations were a little bit silly. College JB needed to be told to let college reveal itself and then work with what’s there to have a great experience.
Stop being so judgy. I was very judgmental of the College—too much so, I think. I remember often feeling like “Everyone is apathetic, everything is lame.” I think a lot of us are this way at age 18, but once I had made a judgment that Pomona is SO this or SO blank, it limited me from appreciating what great stuff and people were surrounding me.
For example, I came in with a strong feeling that the Theater Department should be focused on modern American acting, and everything else wasn’t as important or valuable. The Department’s strong suits were mime, Kabuki, and Shakespeare. My judgment kept me from really engaging, robbing me of the value of studying with professors who are arguably the greatest Kabuki and mime teachers in North America. That is all really interesting stuff that would have really enriched me, and I missed out.
Get out of your room—it’s now or never. It hurts when I think about the women I wanted to go out with but were too afraid to ask, or how I declined being an OA leader because I decided it wasn’t cool enough, or how I got asked to speak at Orientation sophomore year but balked for dumb reasons. What a waste. Opportunities come with time restraints.
There is the story I love about Fred Beckey—arguably the most accomplished North American mountaineer of all time — and Henry Harrer, the author of “7 Years in Tibet.” Beckey wanted to walk away from Mt. Hunter, an unclimbed peak in Alaska, to go back to his job. Harrer responded: “You will regret not taking the challenge. Opportunities are time-related and can quickly fade into vapor.”
Beckey stayed and, together, they put up the first ascent of Hunter, a HUGE accomplishment. Remember: If you have the chance to do something, this will probably be the only chance in your life to do it, whether it’s dating or climbing mountains or whatever. I regret not just going for it.
Write a thesis. My only regret academically is that I wish I had written a thesis, to have left college feeling more like I had really accomplished something. Otherwise, I was kind of blown away by the academics. The material was so interesting. I had a girlfriend a few years ago who was finishing her Ph.D. in history, and she was reading then what I had read as an undergrad. Also, everybody was really, really smart, and the professors were so good- brilliant, interested in and truly talented at teaching.
Advice to specifically you, 19-year-old JB Waterman: have more sex (consensually, obviously.)
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