by Manjul Bhusal Sharma
“I’ve been able to walk backwards since I was a little kid,” Henry Burbank ’16 said. Burbank put his skills to use when he became a tour guide in the fall of 2013. “I’ve been training to be a tour guide my whole life.”
“I became a tour guide because I really love Kenyon,” Burbank said. “I’m enthusiastic about it, and I know that my college search experience was very hectic and stressful and I wanted to help make it less stressful for others.”
The ability to walk backwards and a love for Kenyon are not the only traits a tour guide needs. For Bennett Stephens ’15, after giving tours for four semesters and one full summer, a misstep was bound to happen literally.
“I’ve always been decent at walking backwards,” Stephens said. “Over the summer [of 2013] when I was a tour guide, I got to a point when I got really good at walking backwards on steps” One time, Stephens went down the steps of Olin walking backwards on a tour. “A mom yelled at me for walking backwards on the stairs — it was just her motherly instincts. Then, at the next set of stairs, I fell when walking forwards rather than backwards.”
And it is exactly those sort of “motherly instincts” that lead to difficult questions for tour guides. Stephens recalled, “The most blunt a parent has ever been [was when] a mom asked once, ‘I know this is college; don’t bullshit me about drinking and drugs. This is college — I know people drink. I just want to know where kids get alcohol because you are in the middle of nowhere. Where do you get the alcohol?’” When Stephens replied, “Rite Aid,” he noted she was satisfied with the answer since she said, “It does matter where you get your alcohol.”
Surprisingly, for Stephens, this question was not the hardest one he has had on a tour. “A mother over the summer who was really worried about graduate school … asked why Kenyon students go to graduate school,” Stephens said. Unsatisfied with the answer, the parent asked why a Kenyon education “wasn’t enough” and the conversation continued for a long time.
Amidst tough questions, being a tour guide involves a lot of accidental slapstick comedy.
In her third year as a tour guide, Kelsey Dillon ’14 said, “I was telling people how Kenyon is a walking campus and vehicles stop at crossings, when I nearly got hit by a truck. The people were worried about me for a second and then we all laughed.”
Blunders and all, tour guides are largely resonsible for first impressions of Kenyon for prospective students. Tour guide Cait Coates ’16 said she notices what people are most surprised about when they step foot on Kenyon soil. “I think people are most amazed by the small class sizes and that your freshman year advisory group is only four to five students,” she said.
That first impression must go on, rain or shine. “The tours always go unless there’s a tornado or lightning.,” Stephens said. “I have given tours in the rain and the Admissions Office has plenty of umbrellas. If there’s rain you just have to yell over the rain hitting the umbrellas.”