Section: Opinion

Close to house, far from home

First-year orientation: a ritual endured every year by a few hundred nervous kids, coming from all across the world, eager to start the next significant chapter of their lives. Amid advisor meetings, awkward Title IX assemblies and picnic after picnic, the real purpose of this place almost seems to get lost: we are here to receive an education of a profoundly different type than many of us experienced in high school. It’s a fact made especially apparent to me, because I’m someone with an unusually close perspective.

“Hi, I’m Toby and I’m from Mount Vernon, Ohio.” I uttered this phrase countless times during the gauntlet of orientation events. Despite the generic nature of this introduction, it was often met with gasps of surprise and incredulous follow-ups. “You’re from Mount Vernon? What’s it like?”

Yes, Mount Vernon. The strange and alien world located just one short car trip or inconvenient bike ride from campus. A few answers: No, I don’t know anyone who cooks meth. Yes, the “townies” will think of you as unfathomably pretentious by default. No, my parents will not show up at the dorms to check up on me. Yes, I can show you where Palme House is. But one of the most common questions is the one I’ve had to answer in the most in-depth way: “Has it been an easy transition?”

Months ago, I naïvely thought the answer to that question would be yes. After all, I knew what I was getting into, right? I’ve lived here for my entire life. I even took courses here part-time to supplement my high school education. Yet while I have been spared inconveniences like cross-country car trips or getting lost on the way to class, I feel largely the same as my peers. We are all rapidly adjusting to new people, new attitudes and new freedoms.

In many ways, the most jarring thing to get used to is the almost contagious rejection of apathy that Kenyon’s community espouses. Unlike that of Mount Vernon High School, the environment here is one in which the student body and faculty find intrinsic fulfillment in teaching and learning. As a result, education is no longer a chore, but a communal purpose, extending beyond the classroom and fostering deep and meaningful understanding of my studies. In that sense, the most meaningful changes have nothing to do with where you lived before coming to Kenyon. Sometimes, it really does seem like another world entirely, but I am now a part of this community and the educational values it promotes.

Tobias Baumann ’19 is undeclared from Mount Vernon, Ohio. Contact him at baumannt@kenyon.edu.

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