At the close of winter break my freshman year of college, I returned to my dorm upset. I’d just spent a long three weeks in my small hometown, reliving some awful bits of what made me leave the place. Full of all the teen angst I’d built up over the years, I pounded out a harsh blog that has followed me around since. (If you want to avoid some of that angst, here are the spark notes. If you, prospective JHU student, hate the culture of your hometown, college is a way to escape. JHU gave me a way to leave a culture that damaged me, and I am thankful.) Now, no one in Charleston would have ever seen this blog had I not posted it to my Facebook. I did, though. Hindsight is 20/20.
For whom the culture of Charleston is dear, my expression was insulting. People started fighting in the comments of the post, my brother told me all about a critique from a guy I’ve never met, a few who contributed to (what I understand as) the said problematic culture liked my blog, and friends (also not-friends) of mine called me pretentious for thinking I’m “too smart/good/political/etc.” for my hometown. I deleted the post from my Facebook, and sighed in disorientation and frustration.
Today, I am back home for spring break. Today, I walked into a salon, spoke with the receptionist, and took my seat in the foyer. Two other customers I didn’t recognize waited a brief ten seconds before launching into a discussion; they spoke about a girl they knew who’d wear a Yale sweatshirt around town, as if trying to impress. The women cowed that wearing elitist college gear was pompous. I didn’t take off my Hopkins sweatshirt, engage with them, or squirm in my seat. I’m not sure if the timing of these remarks were innocent coincidence or passive aggression.
Let me set the record straight, through my experience at a supposedly elitist institution. The student body of Johns Hopkins is absolutely not pretentious. In every corner of campus— classrooms, club Facebook groups, café tables— our unique brand of self-deprecating humor is overwhelming. By and large, the students here actually seem overly self-aware. On paper, my three best friends are more wealthy, clever, accomplished, etc. than I am. They are also humble enough to never make me feel inferior. They are not self-important or ostentatious. Of any community I’ve joined, Hopkins does not err toward hierarchy rooted in perceived social status. As far as I can see, any suspect pretension is just a projection from those outside of the so unassuming community.
Yet, make no mistake— I smiled when U.S. News and World Report declared Hopkins one of the nation’s top ten best universities. It’s crazy cool to stand in Hopkins Club, where every stained glass window is decorated with a different Hopkins affiliate awarded a Nobel Prize. If you are proud of something so boldly successful as JHU, you’re pretentious. If you’re proud of your quaint hometown university, you’re a champion of advocacy. So it goes.
JHU Class of 2021: Congratulations! Wear a Hopkins sweatshirt. Tell your violin teacher why you’re jazzed about JHU’s take on creative writing or computed integrated surgery program. Share excitement about your decision on the internet. Do the math to figure that you are in the remarkable 8% of students accepted this year. Enjoy leaving the tired handful of restaurants around town behind. I said it in my old incendiary blog, and I’ll say it again. If you, prospective JHU student, hate the culture of your hometown, college is a way to escape. Getting out does not mean you think you’re “better than.” Going to JHU, an elite institution, doesn’t make you an elitist. Staying in a beloved hometown doesn’t mean you settled.
Staying in a hometown that isn’t you is questionable, a disservice to future you.