The View From Here

(Ethan Gates)– Hello Amherst College. Hello assorted freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Hello transfers and international students. Hello RCs, Peer Advocates, TAs, fellows, counselors, senators, docents and PCAs. Hello jocks, hello choir geeks, hello Students and Indicators. Hello Religious Life, hello ResLife. Hello AAS, SHE, IT, DASAC, TAADA, SASA and WAMH. Hello Sabrinas, Zumbyes, Bluestockings, Route 9 and DQ. Hello gym dwellers and frisbee throwers. Hello SMudd and Fayerweather, JChap and Merrill.

I’m an alum.

Hi hi.

Yes, I graduated from this very college earlier this year. That happened. A bunch of my friends and I put on caps and gowns and paraded around the Freshman Quad and then Biddy Martin got up and told us how old we all were. She even gave everyone canes to demonstrate the point. Amherst had enjoyed having us here, but it was time to put us out to pasture.

I ignored her.

For the past three months, I acted as if nothing had changed. I left all my things in the local barn of some family friends that I’ve always exploited for storage. I went home and failed to acquire a summer job. I kept writing for SheBomb, or whatever it is we’re on the brink of calling ourselves.

It was only when I arrived back on campus, a full week before orientation, that I began to realize that something was dreadfully wrong. There was no one here. And I don’t mean “no one” in that sense we use for Spring Break when half the school has shipped out to Acapulco or wherever. I mean I could sit in the middle of the Freshman Quad all afternoon and maybe see two people (both facilities staff). I mean the library kicked me out at 5:00, barely 4 hours after I had even woken up. I mean I could walk right into Antonio’s and not even have to wait for a slice.

Then orientation started. But I did nothing. I didn’t help any friends or freshmen move into their rooms. I wasn’t working on a special issue of the newspaper. I didn’t revel in the above-average cuisine that Val trots out for the parents. Sure, this week I started my job at the Russian Culture Center in Webster (come visit sometime, it can get lonely and I’d bet half of you didn’t even know it existed). But that’s been only a temporary distraction from the stunning revelation that I, in fact, am no longer a student at this College.

Yet here I am.

So I’d like to share with you a few observations from the other side. Give you a taste of what it feels like to be here, yet not be here. To work on campus, yet live off it. The little things really start to stand out.

  • Freshmen, you GOTTA ditch the lanyards. I don’t know if you’re using them ironically, or, think it’s some sort of hazing thing, but it’s OK. I release you from your bonds. AJ Hastings sells some very nice college-themed keychains, go check them out.
  • Your class number is an inescapable label. First it marked you as a freshman. It gave all your e-mails that smack of naivete and wide-eyed innocence, especially when you accidentally hit the Reply All button. As sophomores and juniors you became part of the status quo. You blended in with the crowd. We basically ignored those numbers, except when we couldn’t remember whether you were a second- or third-year. As seniors, it gave your correspondence a certain gravitas. Last year, when you saw a “12,” you knew whoever it was had taken time out of thesis research and an existential crisis to write to you. You took that shit seriously. Now that little “12” marks me as a relic. A member of a bygone age. IT had to renew my account so it didn’t shut down completely. I am, essentially, a glitch in the system. Yes, it feels weird.
  • Most of the available off-campus housing lies to the northeast of campus, either up by UMass or down Route 9. You may not have thought about it much, but the entire town of Amherst is on a hill, not just our campus. All of the useful places you want to go when you’re a grown-up? Grocery store, mall, post office, etc.? They’re all on the OTHER SIDE of the hill from housing. I don’t know if the Puritans had bicycles, but that “city on a hill” nonsense certainly has had unforeseen repercussions for me and my 3-speed.
  • Speaking of copious amounts of sweat: enjoy wearing shorts and t-shirts while you can, you lucky SOBs. “Business casual” was clearly designed by people who had air-conditioned cars to get from their air-conditioned houses to their air-conditioned offices, because I don’t know why else we insist on making people wear slacks in the summer.
  • Your entire world shifts when you live off-campus. A half-hour walk somewhere no longer seems like the Camino de Santiago. If I had drawn a map at the end of last semester, the place where I’m currently living would’ve been labelled with little drawings of sea monsters and “Here there be dragons.” Really, I’m like a mile from the Emily Dickinson museum. Tops.
  • Speaking of the Dickinson Museum, did any of you know there was a high school, like, right over there? There’s totally a high school right over there.
  • If you think filling out Financial Aid forms are a pain, oh just wait. Human Resources is just one floor up in Converse. And they are waiting. For you.
  • My new ID now says “Casual” on it rather than “Student” (for “Casual Appointment”, a position title that basically means the College can fire me whenever they goddamn please). This is one change that I love. I will automatically appear laid back and relaxed. “Hi. I’m Ethan. I’m Casual.”
  • The world is run by tired people. My job starts at 9:00 a.m. and I’m a wreck until I get some coffee. Now remember that I’m one of the INCREDIBLY LUCKY ones. A lot of people start work at 8. or 7. Think about when schoolteachers have to wake up in order to be ready for school by then, right before they go deal with a bunch of whiny, disobedient students for 8 hours. Now think about being the President of the United States. You probably get like, 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. Tops. These people are mentally and physically exhausted, all the time. And they’re in charge of your children. And the nuclear launch codes. Just saying.
  • Homework sucks. I’m going home for the weekend and I’ve got absolutely diddly-squat to worry about until Tuesday. This is another good change.
  • I miss the amount of food at Val. Not necessarily the food itself – I can make some delicious meals at home, if I do say so myself. But the AMOUNT of food. There used to be SO MUCH FOOD.

So that’s the view from here. If there’s anything you ever wanted to ask an alum who desperately hangs around on campus, let me know. I’m considering turning my posts into advice column (<—– this is a joke).