Recently, I had the unexpected pleasure of being a tour guide at Kenyon for a prospective student from New York.
“My original guide had an outside appointment that she neglected to mention,” he lamented, tugging at his collars. “I will have to tour the place by myself.”
“Nonsense,” I said. “I’ll give you a tour.” I made the usual circuit of campus, pointing out the architectural contributions of Graham Gund and other venerable names of modernity that generously attach themselves to Kenyon, talking of the liberal arts and the old books we still teach. We ended outside Ransom Hall, where we’d begun.
“In sum,” I concluded proudly, “the grandest of mankind is gathered here.”
“But it’s that way at most every college,” he said. “Everyone reads the classics. Everyone has modern architecture. This is not so rare.”
I let out a sigh, wondering if I ought to show him the true privilege of Lords and Ladies. School pride outpaced secrecy and stove its head in.
“Ours is a somewhat singular experience. You see,” I said mystically, “there is magic atop this Hill.”
The fellow cocked his eyebrow agnostically but followed me to Sunset Cottage.
Inside the seminar room, we heard the brave utterances of English’s grandfather in practiced tongue; behind the door, to my nonchalance but not the prospie’s, was Beowulf and a slain Grendel upon the thoroughly ruined table. Hailing the former with a “wæs þu hæl” — a wassail — I assisted Dickens in climbing off the bookshelf from which he contemplated the ancient scene. Outside, we encountered Samuel Johnson, who looked upon us haughtily but followed when I indicated Beowulf, saying he was not too late this time to see true noble heritage, if he still wished it.
In Hayes we found Galileo and Einstein, both napping upon a bench. Though I hated to interrupt their rest, I begged them to join our merry group, which had grown considerably after we walked through Rosse. In the distance, a maintenance worker complained with unintended topicality that someone had stripped every composer’s name from Rosse’s basement hallways.
In Ascension, I heard a booming voice from the second floor and sought it out, but upon entering Philomathesian, I found only Dante and Machiavelli, discoursing in chalk upon the boards. Not knowing Italian with any confidence, I hailed them in our common tongue: “Salvete, mei magistri doctissimi!” They joined our retinue just as Cicero descended from Nu Pi Kappa, wondering at the loud oaths asseverated by Marx upon finding out that there was no smoking allowed inside or near buildings. Twain hurriedly extinguished a cigar and said if this was not despotism he did not know what was. Orwell assented.
G.K. Chesterton had proposed we seek warmth and ale at the Village Inn, but Rand, having appeared from Timberlake House, pointed out that our number was too great for any venue save the Old Side of Peirce. Fortunately, it was a late lunch hour and the Great Hall was empty save for a few solitary souls and Ed. But, upon our arrival, it quickly filled with men and women wearing top hats, togas, kimonos and other fantastic outfits. Wilde was proposing a toast to levity at the football team’s usual table while Ralph Ellison assembled light bulbs in a large cardboard box. A towering William Peirce, having left his portrait, stirred the coals of a tremendous fire in the hearth. Our many voices and languages mingled into a wealth of noise, as healthful as Alpine air. I turned to my prospective student, who was beleaguered with mirth and could only but smile.
“You must understand,” I explained, handing him his Kenyon brochure, “what I attempt to remember everyday: the thing that makes this and a few other hills special is not that all these folks are here, but that we invite them so amiably — as though we really believe they will come.”
Matthew Eley ’15, of Howard, Ohio, is an English major with an IPHS concentration. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.