Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

Whatever good experience I had during Previews Weekend as a prospective student considering Williams, it was only enough to make me choose Williams, not really look forward to it.College was still an unwelcome and unfathomable change looming at the end of a very pleasant summer, spent all over Queens with new freedom to drive and explore, my only responsibility a part time job at a toy store. I pretty much put college out of my mind and enjoyed my days.

My sentiments having changed little since application season, I took this to something of an extreme. Williams sent matriculating students a few materials during the summer before. I got a packet asking you to choose your classes: this I threw beside the bed, unconsidered, much as I had done with the stack of prospectuses from various colleges during application season. I got a request for a photo of me for WSO’s facebook (years before the existence of facebook.com) and ignored it until the reminder they sent a month later with a more pleading tone. Somewhere mixed into all this was a couple of questionnaires I was to fill out about myself to help the Powers choose a roommate and adviser for me.

These were all things I did not want to think about, and I delayed them until about two weeks before it was time for the big move. By that point, my pre-registration for classes was two months overdue and I had ignored requests for a self-introduction from my JAs. Whatever my class choices, I was blocked out of all of them except the huge ones and seven of my eight freshman year courses would be 100-levels. When I accompanied my ultra-late forms with the attached sheepish and characteristically florid letter intended for the registrars, Williams didn’t quite know what to do, and forwarded it to my JAs, my advisor, and hell I think maybe even my WOOLF leaders.

I was the last to arrive in my entry. I’d not wanted to lose a minute of summer to college, and I rolled into Williamstown a mere hour before I was due at Lansing-Chapman Rink to borrow gear and join my hiking group. I had intentionally stayed out ridiculously late the night before so that I’d be passed out for all of the ride up. When I arrived at my room on the third floor of East, I barely had time to say hi to my very well-meaning roommate, Paul.

The WOOLF trip, Paul, and my entry in general were to be my first introduction to everything the Fiske guide paragraph had probably hinted at, but which I had failed to understand and completely forgotten. The WOOLF trip was dominated by one strident and chatty boarding school graduate, a thin blonde who spoke in a way that made me honestly believe that there was something defective about my understanding of the world because I didn’t know what a “Hotchkiss” was. Her sense of confidence and belonging was so strong that for a jarring while I assumed that she represented Williams.

When I returned to East 3 and found that most of my entrymates were seriously playing a sport or very casually picking up intramural frisbee at the warm invitation of our JAs, I started to realize what I’d gotten into. Yes, folks, when I said in my last post that I’d had no idea of Williams’ market niche, I truly meant it: I didn’t know that we were famous for our athletics. Sung told me he’d been recruited for wrestling, but this had not registered as an important detail. I dimly remembered the Fiske exclaiming that something like 70% of students played a varsity sport, but since I hadn’t read any school prospectuses I had no point of comparison.

Paul, my roommate, was doing ok. He was into lacrosse, snowboarding, marijuana, and his very expensive sound system. Though unwilled by Paul, I was fast and helplessly relegated to less-cool-roommate status. For the first month or so of school, I was home more often than Paul and thus there when girls would come by, usually one per day and sometimes more, and stick their head in the door looking for him. Sometimes they’d just duck back out, but frequently they’d say, out of politeness I guess, “Oh, you must be Paul’s Roommate.” I didn’t know or try to know what Paul was up to, but he was getting around.

If I wanted to console myself by thinking I had the intellectual superiority, I couldn’t: Paul had placed into advanced math, science, and philosophy courses and was taking a strong load from semester one while I was plugging along in my late-registration grab-bag of 100 levels. He was clearly brilliant, there was no denying this. He was also exceptionally kind and accommodating to me, worried about me when I showed up so late to school or home at night, always asked if he was intruding on my space, and invited me into his socializing often enough to be genuine but not to so often as to imply that I needed it.

Paul was a good roommate, but a challenge to me off the bat. Everyone at Williams talks about meeting one of Williams’ superstars, that scholar-athlete who seems simply better than you in every way, “effortlessly” better than you thought a young 20-something could be. I had this experience on the first day.

Surprising myself, I’m actually going to gloss over most of what came next. I’ve made a few efforts here to put it down into words, and it’s actually more unpleasant and petty-sounding than I can muster myself to relive. Suffice it to say that I thrashed down a number of dead ends, chasing things both because I thought I would like them but also because I thought they were the way to belong to a group at Williams. Notably of the latter group were WUFO and a cappella, both things that early evidence made me decide were access to instant cool. But I had little love and less skill for frisbee, and when I chose the showtune duet “Agony” to sing solo and semi-tone-deaf at the auditions, it got me less than far. I had my first ice cream sundae in the snack bar the night I saw my name not on the fourth group’s callback list.

It was a direct result of my general disconnectedness and malaise that I noticed a poster for the year’s first contradance, something I surely would otherwise have ignored. I had never in my life enjoyed dancing; I was (am, really) one of those people with no body awareness, in whom a dance floor produces a mild rigor mortis. The previous year in high school I had tried out for a musical, and attempting a simple box step literally tripped over my own feet at the audition, falling into and knocking over the person trying out next to me. So when I saw the poster hanging in the East stairwell advertising a contradance, I planned to go purely on a “what the hell have I got to lose” basis.

No single decision did more to connect me with the others I belonged with at Williams, or to make me into who I’d become. Contradance, and where it took me, is a story I’ll dwell on at some length, and with happier tidings.

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