There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. (Nelson Mandela)
There’s something about spending the summer in a place called Mechanicsville that makes everything seem both hopelessly boring and oddly soothing. It’s a small town (actually, according to Wikipedia we’re technically a township – whatever that means) where front porches and colonial-style shutters reign supreme in each subdivision, where the humidity comes at you in blasts from cracks in the sidewalk after a thunderstorm, where deer and TEA Party signs sprinkle the roadside, and where you have to make your own kind of fun because everything closes by 9 p.m.
Having moved several times throughout elementary and middle school, I don’t really feel a deep sense of connection or belonging to any particular place. I miss people more so than places; geography is just kind of a technicality. So for me, summer means being rooted to a place that I haven’t ever really considered home.
On one hand, I don’t mind it at all. It’s a nice break from the intense schoolwork, and having plenty of downtime means taking day trips to Virginia Beach with old friends, spending a lazy weekend on the Potomac at my friend Taylor’s river house, re-visiting local eateries in Richmond, tackling my summer reading list (I just finished Bossypants by Tina Fey and The Hunger Games Trilogy, and want to read Toni Morrison’s new book, Home!), and working part-time to save up some money.
On the other hand, I can already feel myself getting restless. This is the kind of place where the Southern charm and ridiculously low crime rate can lull you into a sense of complacency – which I suspect is part of the reason why most people don’t go out-of-state for college and why, around this time last year, I was itching to get out. A good number of people here have never even heard of Johns Hopkins – and I’m not trying to condemn or ridicule them, because that’s just the way it is.
Now that I’ve been back for almost a month, I’ve been able to suspend the general feeling of disbelief that accompanied the end of freshman year. Going from a quiet, conservative town to the eclectic city of Baltimore and back has made me realize how lucky I am just to be able to do so. My freshman year at Hopkins has taught me so many things – how to get a 4.0 (yes, it really is possible), join a sorority, find internships, make cookies in the microwave (again – you can do anything if you set your mind to it), and live with four random people (five, including my suitemate’s boyfriend – Hi John Doyle!) who you not only get along with but will genuinely miss.
When I look back at freshman year, I remember late-night talks with my lovable and brilliant roommate Jane, who always left the light on for me after a night out, spending a ridiculous amount of time in Sonu’s room and stealing coffee from Julia’s Keurig (hehe sorry!), propping open my window to talk (see: shout) to Joy across the open alcove in Wolman (I could see her room from my window, and vice versa), and running around Homewood with JHU_Tess and my bigbig Annie in sombreros.
I know these are very specific moments that apply to an even more specific circle of people at Hopkins. But these are also the moments that point to something even bigger and broader about Hopkins – like looking around during one of your lectures and realizing that every single one of your classmates is going to do something amazing someday. Hopkins fosters a community of people that makes you want to aspire to bigger and better things, simply by being your friend, professor, roommate, or teammate. There’s a healthy social pressure that compels us to live up to others’ expectations of who we are and who we could be.
In high school, I had a teacher who tried to impart some wisdom. He told me never to think that I was irreplaceable, because I wasn’t. He said that nobody is really irreplaceable. To a certain extent, I guess it’s kind of true – maybe in the corporate world, or maybe in Mechanicsville. Then I think back to my personal experiences, and it’s also blatantly false. Not about me, per se, but about everyone I’ve met in the past year. In my mind at least all of those people – all of those moments – are irreplaceable.
Hopkins hasn’t given me any more of a sense of belonging than Mechanicsville has – I stick out in both places for different reasons. I still miss my high school friends while I’m in Baltimore just as much as I miss my Hopkins friends when I’m home for the summer. But if I had to sum up my freshman year in one sentence (or blog post…oopz), I’d say that it’s taught me to embrace that feeling, because it means that I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone, carving a space for myself in this network of irreplaceable people.
Happy (Belated) Fathers Day!