By Matthew Eley
In the months before I came to Kenyon, I published (on Amazon) a novel called A Few Good Years which detailed the college days of two fellows at a place not unlike Kenyon. At its conclusion, the narrator makes a summary of the place as he leaves, noting: “There are few places like it, in this world.” I respect that statement, for the narrator by the novel’s end has every reason to doubt it: the college has fallen to pieces, into corruption, penury and disaster. But he has learned something about loving a place.
I transferred to Kenyon in September 2013 with enough idealism to bring back Paul Newman. In Collegian op-eds, I sermonized on the Western Canon and an idyllic Kenyon that exists somewhere in the mustier stacks of the Reveille; I loved all my courses and introduced myself with a firm handshake to everyone. The campus did not know what to do with so zealous an upstart, although the Collegiate did some excellent imitations of me.
After a few months, I began spending Saturday nights back on my family’s farm and found that I enjoyed them more. I confess that even last fall seemed a strange slough of backfired attempts at friendship, academic success and contentment. Something was amuck; I spent Christmas break in quiet disappointment and felt resigned to the fact that Kenyon’s great lesson would be that you really oughtn’t over-romanticize in life; truthfully, I regretted coming here, thinking of the senior year at the University of Richmond that I had missed.
The mistake I’d made all along had its headwaters in transferring here; I had already been disappointed with one college and wanted badly not to be disappointed again by the one which was also my home. I was too hard on the University of Richmond during my years there, and too easy on Kenyon; strangely, it was the latter that hurt most. You close your eyes out of bliss and walk into things. But with a critical light, the good becomes obvious, too.
Kenyon has tried my romanticism and freed it of some ridiculous notions of perfection. The place has its flaws: the master plan is for another college entirely; administrative bureaucracy threatens to assume that we are all children (and we threaten to prove them right); Middle Path ought not be paved; the bookstore is a shadow of its former self; most of our recent construction expenditures were wasteful; and our admissions process has lost some of the personality that made previous class years so personable. But it is still a hell of a college.
Kenyon is a place where I could enjoy the making of true friends in spite of myself and an in-class pint as the view from Sunset Cottage lit up with dusk. I owe to Kenyon a month spent at the University of Exeter and the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid sort of camaraderie unique to journalism within the Collegian. It was here I had a student assistantship in President Decatur’s office, a pint of Guinness at the VI during the English comps’ lunch break, the revelry of falling in love with a belle from France. And moreover, I have learned how to properly enjoy.
A Few Good Years’ narrator might conclude that a stubborn individuality defines Kenyon, that there are few places like it in this world, and he would not be far from the truth though he never had Kenyon in mind. As for me? On May 16, I will graduate, pack up my things and go home. I will drive through Gambier often, through the Village and over the bridge. I will see a river like Kokosing, and it will be enough.
Matthew Eley ’15 is an English major from Howard, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.