The Beginning of The Middle

(Noor Qasim)– It’s the beginning of the new school year, or rather, the beginning of the beginning—orientation, and I can’t help but project an aura of grave importance onto every face and wall. On the train up here I spent a few hours thinking about the way light bounced off the trees outside and into the car, and how I’ll miss the perennial journey to Amherst when it’s no longer my home, and how beautiful and American, in the best sense, is the farmland that surrounds us. So, basically, I’ve been pretty insufferable, and even I’m getting sick of my never-ending machinations on what it means to be a Junior. It’s not like we’re nearing the end or anything.

Then again, it’s not often one really gets to process what it means to be so concretely in the middle of something. I began my junior year of high school with a tight pit in my stomach and ended it a puddle of my former self. That year is now a blur—the only thing I really remember about it mornings spent searching for spots between library stacks to take much-needed naps. And lots of crying. But, thankfully, this year feels different.

Two years ago, when my family drove into Amherst that first day, we saw the brick and green of our campus in summer and my mother began to cry. And I wanted to cry too, is the thing, but it was like all this air in my throat kept the tears in. I was so overwhelmed and frightened and excited by this heartbreakingly beautiful place, nothing actually came out. And those first few days of orientation were ridiculous and ecstatic and nerve-rattling, and the rest of the year, really, or a least that first semester, was a headlong hurtle into friendships and classes and some new sense of identity formed haphazardly and joyously and devoid of the context of family or childhood. That year, the juniors I met and got to know came to define my sense of what Amherst was, what it could be. Who I could be in relation to them. In many ways, they gave a structure to my chaos of a personality, provided a space within which my bone-rattling energy could take root and become something more grounded, productive. I don’t know why it was the juniors specifically—maybe the seniors were so immersed in their studies, sophomores too close to my own age to effectively put on a pedestal. They knew things and still had the time and energy to impart that knowledge.

So I’m starting this year with this strange sort of energy I’ve never really felt before. I’m at once sure of myself and wholly unsure—prepared for another two years in a place I already feel I know so well, intimidated by the new heft of academic work that will surely befall us all, excited and daunted by the prospect of being someone to whom younger people might make the mistake of looking up. And so much is changing, so much to translate, to make comprehensible. On one hand—no more socials, the advent of the Greenways. In a more serious sense—Amherst Uprising, keeping those goals and initiatives alive even with some past leaders gone and arriving first years with perhaps distorted understandings of what happened, and is currently happening, on this campus. These are responsibilities, burdens, privileges, all in one.

Visions of some immature adulthood keep flashing through my mind in this period of time before things really get going. I have time to daydream about being responsible. Waking up early, going to bed on time. Readings completed days in advance, cooking meals for myself, casually but confidently beginning the search for some sort of career. I imagine I’ll be like the juniors my first year. Or at least what I imagined them to be. I’ll gather first years in my room for a beer. I’ll dispense sage, junior wisdom. And sure, most of these fantasies arise out of some struggling desire to define myself anew, to give my ego new form. I still don’t know what I’m doing, just like I didn’t that first day my family drove up and the trees and bricks almost knocked us out cold. But I know a little better how to handle that feeling. The jagged electricity of the first year has rounded out a little, has become easier to hold on to. It’s a subtle and exciting confidence. As my glory of a friend, Sam, has been saying recently, as we are on the brink of the middle of things: “I’m excited to just be.”