When I first arrived at Pomona College, I thought a lot of things.Some were right. Most were wrong. For the uninitiated, the small misperceptions quickly become self-evident, so I won’t point them out. If you haven’t realized that wearing your college lanyard around your neck screams freshman, you will soon. But I don’t look back at the time I spent attached to my lanyard with any regret because what I would most like to change about my first year wasn’t a physical manifestation of my frosh status. It was my preference for the “real-world” commentary of my favorite columnists over the thoughts of my fellow students.
Why, I regularly insisted, would anyone choose the half-cocked opinions of amateur pundits over the New York Times editorials on a Friday morning? (Incidentally, the New York Times has been mysteriously absent at Pomona on Friday mornings recently. I personally suspect rogue TSL employees who are trying to limit our newspaper alternatives, but budget cuts are the far more likely culprit.)
For me it was no contest between Paul Krugman or David Brooks and an opinionated sophomore’s soliloquy on the state of partisan politics in the U.S. Reading an early 20-something’s version of why the Tea Party movement represents a sea of change in American politics seemed less convincing than the words of an established intellectual. Academic engagement with college-aged students nearly always paled in comparison to conversation with adults backed by thirty years of academic experience.
But as I soon found out, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to your fellow Sagehens. Looking back, some of my most valuable intellectual interactions in college have been with my friends and classmates. I don’t, as Jack Donaghy said, “go back to the common room and talk about apartheid,” or whatever the twenty-first century equivalent would be. But in all seriousness, the best talks I have had at Pomona usually started outside the classroom, discussing the issues that are too uncomfortable to really delve into in front of professors. It was the recurring conversations at Frank dinners or the daily chats in friends’ suites that managed to completely change my mind.
Consistently seeking outside of the college community for political discourse and “greater insights” on the world made me miss a lot that was right in front of me. You might not always find it here in the pages of TSL, but trust me, there is a place or two—if not five or ten—where you will find people to engage with on the 5Cs. This truism is not a version of the “finding your niche” spiel that seems compulsory in any campus tour or freshman orientation these days. In this world, people whom you respect and who make you feel comfortable enough to bring up any idea, no matter how rough or poorly conceived, are a rare commodity and at Pomona, we’re sitting on a mother lode. Mine it while you can.
By definition, seeking out your interests is highly individual. If you look beyond the obvious sources—the abundance of 5C-flyers and daily Chirps—there is a lot happening that is never advertised. Freshman year, I saw a Nobel Peace Prize winner at the CMC Athenaeum only because one afternoon I felt like checking the Ath’s website. Never say no to anything or anyone you think has the potential to be interesting. You never know what it could turn into.