The Mountains

2009 almost went down in history as the year without a Mountain Day.  My Frosh were bereft, for a variety of reasons.  Some had been looking forward to it for months, while telling friends back home about how awesome/inspired/utterly-insane their school was for having such a tradition.  Some had been practicing a capella solos for weeks, while some were hard at work learning choral harmonies.  Some were looking forward to dominating the Wah tournament, while some worriedly signed releases for the “Xtreme Adventure Race” (well I was worried, at least).  Some anticipated reconvening with the mountains, while some had never seen the seasons change before.  Some just wanted a day to sleep in.

Listen up, David: my Frosh even learned “The Mountains” for the occasion.  Unprompted (sorry!) by me or my Co, they sat around in the common room one night and diligently rehearsed two verses of our alma mater song, accompanied by one of their entrymates on a keyboard.  (They’re also really good at “Sweet Caroline”, but that’s another story.)

So naturally, we all panicked when we saw the weather reports, and almost gave up hope when we got the first e-mail from Bill Wagner.  This e-mail, which was waiting in our inboxes one dreary Wednesday morning, basically said, “Hey kids, don’t count on having a Mountain Day…”

The odds were certainly against us.

Fortunately, there were plenty of nice days this month- they just happened to not be Fridays.  There were crunchy leaves and beautiful foliage and sunshine all around, just begging us to convene with nature. So my entry decided not to wait for Mountain Day.  One of my more enterprising Frosh woke up one sunny Saturday and said, “Hey kids, lets go on a hike!”  And so we did.

As we hiked up the Pine Cobble trail, it struck me that this was something I would simply not have been doing a year ago.  There’s a joke among Williams students, about how it takes four minutes to sign up for all the clubs that interest you at the Purple Key Fair, and four years to get off of all those listserves.  It’s so easy to come to Williams with a picture of who you’re going to be, what you’re going to be involved in, and have that all change by the time your first set of midterms roll around.  It’s so easy to fall into exclusivity- to become the sort of person who goes to football games but not rugby games, who is an a capella junkie but has never heard the chamber choir, who eats dinner every night at the same place with the same teammates.  Freshman year, I quickly transitioned from a Person-Who-Loved-WOOLF into a Person-Who-Does-Not-Hike.  But what was really keeping me from hiking?

Um… nothing at all, it turns out.  An unexpected perk of being a JA is getting the chance to redefine who you are as a Williams student.  My Frosh are quickly forging their own paths here, and I’ve been given the opportunity tag along for the ride.  Over the past two months, I’ve experienced so many different things under the guise of being a good JA.  When I go to a rugby game or a tennis match, it’s because I want to support my Frosh, but it’s also because I want to experience all these parts of Williams that I have neglected over the past two years.  When one of my Frosh wants to try something new, like rock climbing in the field house, I don’t feel weird trying it too.  A year ago, I was stuck; I hesitated to try anything new because I was no longer a wide-eyed Frosh trying to find my place on campus.  I already had my place, I thought.

What I’ve gained as a JA is the ability to see past my perceived “place” and just exist as a member of the Williams community; a realization that I’ve applied to more than just extra-curriculars.  This year, after gushing to my Frosh over and over again about the great resources that Williams has to offer, I have actually started using them.  I finally got over my fear of the Math Science Resource Center, and I have started meeting with professors outside of class, something I had struggled to do in the past.  It’s a good thing, because it turns out that Junior Year is tough.  Balancing schoolwork with JA-dom is even tougher.

When I used to think about what being a JA meant, I focused a lot on how I would be able to impact the lives of my Frosh.  What I didn’t realize is how much my Frosh were going to impact my life.  From the sporting events that I attend to the slang words that I use, they have infiltrated every inch of my existence.  This year so far has been so full of new experiences that unpredictability has become a way of life.  Usually, these unexpected experiences are awesome; would I ever have driven up Mount Greylock at sunset if I hadn’t had to rescue a Frosh who rode to the top on his bicycle and got too cold to ride back down?  Sometimes, they’re less than awesome; I’m sure my Co wasn’t planning on being up with a puking frosh until 2am the night before two midterms.  I feel sometimes like I have been given a second chance at Freshman year- all of the excitement with the qualification of knowing WAY more than I did two years ago.

I’m glad my Frosh got to have their first Mountain Day, even if it was far from traditional.  The day ended up being gorgeous, and sitting on top of Stone Hill with my entry made me wistful in the same way that my mom gets on family vacations.  Looking down on Williamstown below us, while surrounded by what felt like the entire school, I literally couldn’t stop smiling.  “Guys, this is Mountain Day…your very first Mountain Day!” I kept exclaiming, and my Frosh just looked at me like I was nuts.

They have no idea.

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