OPINION: The beauty of cyclical small talk

A drawing of an analog clock, with the hour hand pointing to nine and the minute hand at two. A student carrying a backpack stands on the angle between the hour and minute hand, walking to the left.
(Lucia Marquez-Uppman • The Student Life)

Arriving back to Claremont went like this: first we talked about winter break; then we focused on schedules; when we settled, we glorified the weekends. “Yes, January flew by, but just you wait for spring break!” There’s a seasonal clockwork to small talk – and its a wonder to behold. 

Truthfully, these repetitive cycles of small talk are just another part of having a calendar that cranks out graduates every year. Talk lurches forward and loops right back again six months later. 

We can be sure that the social thrill or end of semester angst of registration awaits us every few months. It will happen exactly like it always does. It’s not that your registration time is actually “horrid” and “everyone else got into better courses!” 

You see, it’s this regularity of conversation that actually helps build community. It’s fun to try to follow those invisible waves of cyclical, small talk together. It helps to process those shared experiences in an academic year, usually too overwhelming or too isolating to grasp in the moment. 

In October, everyone’s discussing going abroad. In May, storage lockers take center stage in the conversation. November is all about Hyperschedule-ing around Frary.

There’s a level at which this exploration into common small talk that doesn’t go quite as far as I’d like it to. 

Sure, people share conversations sometimes, but of course we’re not all on the same page. And to think of the collective ‘we’ glosses over so many differences in our student experience. 

The Pomona College calendar is not the Harvey Mudd College one. My quiet January is a far cry from the athletes out there with back to back parties and games. All the joys, pains and heartbreaks in all those unexpected surprises that dot semesters can be reshuffled into unique individual challenges for each student.

But despite shared small talks’ rather flimsy foundations, the very act of imagining this seasonal small talk as bubbling, collective anticipation allows us to feel – maybe if only for a moment – like we’re really living together. 

Although we may get bored by this repetitive cycle of conversations, it helps build our community. It’s like admiring an anthill: their tiny residents, seemingly each doing its own thing, yet they shuffle into perfect rows, guided invisibly by everyone else in its community. 

When our collective schedules sync up, and people pack into the libraries, and you overhear conversations you just had the day before, it starts to feel like a real community – a village of unique people dancing to the same beat. 

Of course, people exaggerate, but living together means that people exaggerate in regular, patterned and simple ways. It’s adorable. It’s also a relief to know that our collective hysterias will flit by, too.

Cycles of small talk help ease the stress of the actual topics they discuss when considered in perspective. Yes, your housing registration time can end up affecting your wellbeing — but it’s also not all tears. 

Stepping back and imagining that fickle cycle of small talk might add a calmer sort of awe to that panic, not fixing problems, but perhaps softening their blow. Small talk always remains calming, pleasant and fun.

That’s the standpoint from which I say, today, that this past week was kind of boring. It’s a break from the strict regimen of pre-set questions that we seem to collectively download every season. But when the tide of conversation ebbs again, it will be a welcome reignition of that realm of the commons, however imaginary they may be.

Emilio Esquivel Marquez PO ’25 is from Mexico City. He enjoys finding lost AirPods around the colleges, which helps him feel more engaged with the Claremont community.

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