Section: Opinion

Be yourself: true spirit of Kenyon comes from authenticity

By Derek Foret

Last week, Hannah Hippen ’18 wrote an article (“Recapturing Kenyon’s quirk,” Sept. 25) that, in a nutshell, argued that due to the “monumental change” brought about by the new admissions policies, our student body is becoming “more institutionalized” and thus in danger of losing our “quintessentially quirky nature.” She calls upon us to be “vast and varied and downright bizarre” because “without Kenyon’s almost ostentatiously quirky nature, what’s left?” I urge you to read it to capture its full effect. It is light, upbeat and fun, and probably what Hippen has in her head when she mentions the word “quirk.”

And yet, even with the illustrative alliteration and playful personality, the article didn’t sit well with me. I do understand that Hippen’s piece deals with an idealistic, and perhaps impractical, Kenyon. But her starting place didn’t make sense — the new Class of 2018 has been here for hardly a month. How can we already be judging them as a whole? Furthermore, the piece seemed to be missing something. The suggestions, such as “creat[ing] a tapestry” or “craft[ing] a bustling village of birdhouses” came off as weirdness for weirdness’s sake — a negative quality I associate with a certain more northern Ohio liberal arts college. It lacked the authenticity I find in my Kenyon friends’ idiosyncrasies. It felt unmotivated. For example, I have one friend who forged a bull out of pure molten metal (cool, right?), because she loves cows and thinks metalworking is “badass.” But I also have another friend who writes emotional ballads on guitar (what could be more cliché?), and his songs are great — partly because he’s incredibly talented, but mostly because they sound like him. They’re authentic. And why should we inherently value the bull over the ballad because the former is in a less common category? Because it’s, well, quirky?

And yet, I was ready to stop reading there. I was ready to stop there because Hippen’s piece is cute if you don’t take it that seriously, because I think anything that brings up the culture of Kenyon and how it’s changing is an overall good thing. Even if we can’t agree on what it is or should be, simply caring about Kenyon in that way lets us preserve some identity in the more and more monochromatic national liberal arts college landscape.

But mostly I was ready to stop there because I could chalk her piece up as a slightly misguided reminder not to be afraid to have some fun, no matter how silly. I never actually heard a fellow Kenyon student before talking about “quirkiness” seriously (and isn’t it called whimsy, anyway?). “That’s so Kenyon is a nudge and a wink, a phrase said completely sarcastically in reference to the College’s marketing strategies.

And that’s when it hit me. That “’18” in Hippen’s byline is her graduating year. 2018. Hippin is a first year.

Now, please, do not take this the wrong way. I’m not discrediting Hippen because of her age. Rather, I am questioning Hippen’s ability to talk about how her own class has drastically changed Kenyon’s social culture — a class that is a month old, so it is a change she, by definition, would not be able to see, and a culture in which she has only just started socializing in. How could a first year be so sure, after only a month, that her class has fundamentally affected Kenyon? How could any of us, really? The truth is that she doesn’t, and her misunderstanding is shown through how seriously she takes “Kenyon quirk.” The emptiness in the piece stemmed from Hippen’s unfamiliarity with what Kenyon’s culture actually is combined with the certainty of her critique.

To sum up something as intricate as the culture of Kenyon — both a superposition of each individual’s personality and a complex system of uncountable interactions — is an exercise in futility. Even identifying overall trends requires living through them in their entirety. But the beauty of Kenyon is that we can spend our time here not really sure what exactly is happening around us, yet still feel like we can belong and succeed just by being who we are. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Calling for a more “quirky” Kenyon at all costs — automatically putting the bull before the ballad — damages this authenticity fundamental to Kenyon’s core. To strengthen Kenyon’s culture, we don’t need to define it. We just need to make sure we’re being ourselves.

Derek Foret ’17 is a math major from Washington, D.C. He can be reached at


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