Claremont in My Rearview

This has been a week of lasts. Last Thursday class as an
undergrad, last time I’ll ever have to use “thesis” as an excuse for anything,
last time I’ll stress my editors at TSL
out by waiting until the last second to send them my column.

Three years ago, I would have been begging for these lasts,
unable to imagine them and physically willing them to come sooner. Now I watch
the smoggy sunsets and wish they’d slow down. I almost wish classes would last
longer. And I walk around the campuses without my nose buried in my phone. I might be
alone in my Benjamin Buttoning the whole college thing, but I realized how
lucky I have been more with every passing day.

I showed up in California with some vague expectation that
didn’t feel met, and spent way too long dwelling on that to notice the amazing
and unexpected things that were happening all around me. I let a philosophy
class or two blow my mind without seeking out the endless opportunities for
healthy conversation and debate about the various theories I learned. I took
for granted all of the good things and fixated on the few bad things and, as
John Milton would put it, let my mind make a hell out of heaven.

So it wasn’t until I went home for the summer, took the fall
semester of my junior year off, and spent 95 percent of the following winter break
thinking I wasn’t going back to Claremont, that I realized how good things are
out here. I talked to friends from home about their college experiences, talked
to strangers across the United States about their life experiences, and thought a lot
about my own. I concluded that while there are a lot of legitimate cons about the
5Cs, the same is true of any college or university. And the pros of this place
way outweigh its potential drawbacks.

Sometime in January, I told the
registrar to keep my spot open after all; I said that I’d take whatever classes I
could get and live wherever I could. I came back, and within weeks was on
museum trips and seeing concerts in Los Angeles. I was taking classes that I loved and
meeting new people in those classes and wondering where they had been the first
two years I was here.

This is not to say that the people
I met before I took a break weren’t great—many of them are still my closest
friends—but that the supply of intriguing people and potential lifelong friends
is so much larger than any of us realize. As we get older, younger grades
refresh the endless supply of great minds and unique stories that fill the 5Cs.
The variety of perspectives, of geographic, ethnic, and socioeconomic
diversity, and of the five colleges that appeal to different audiences make for
an environment that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the country.

Recently, even as I let
end-of-semester stress convince me that I was maybe ready to be done
after all, I had one more meeting with my thesis reader and one more great
writing workshop. Both reminded me that the resources we have at our disposal
are unrivaled and probably won’t be matched once these four years are over. Chatting
candidly with published authors about my writing or their writing or how weird
it is to live in the desert we call home is something that I let myself get too
used to.

As I sat in my penultimate workshop
class (one I didn’t skip to go to the beach with my girlfriend—another thing we
can’t do post-Claremont), it hit me that there’s no better combination of free
time and too many opportunities. Sometimes we have to traipse between a
performance at Pomona, an art show at Scripps, a speaker at the Ath, a student
band performance at Mudd, and a Zine exhibition at Pitzer. Other days, we wake
up and realize that we’re on top of our work and can drive to the beach or the
mountains and send Snapchats that will make our friends who are anywhere but
Southern California infinitely jealous.

As my post-graduation “real” job
has begun to ramp up even before I walk the stage in a few weeks, I realize
that even as I am pausing to love and appreciate the place where I am, there are
still plenty of things that we hear but don’t believe until we experience them
ourselves.

Instead of writing an advice column
or a Buzzfeed article, I’ll remind everyone here to look around and really recognize
all the things that make Claremont great. These things are different for
everyone, but even someone like me, someone who was a few days from
transferring or withdrawing, has come to deeply appreciate the consortium and
the quaint desert hamlet that surrounds it. There’s a lot that I would change
if I could, but come May 17, there’s no stage I’d rather walk or
diploma I’d rather receive. 

John Montesi CM ’14 is a literature major from Fort Worth, Texas.

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