Section: Opinion

Selling the first-year experience

Look at any of the hundreds of college admissions pamphlets you got in the mail your junior and senior years of high school. You’ll likely see smiling faces, energetic professors, a disproportionate amount of racial diversity, picturesque Gothic buildings, dorm rooms that look way too nice, laughing friends and a general collegiate dream world.

This makes sense. Kenyon, like every other college you looked at, is trying to sell itself. They want you. But this romanticized vision of college persists past the acceptance letters and high school graduations.

How many times did you hear that college would be the best four years of your life? Did you hear it during your high school graduation ceremony? Or over the summer before your first year? Or during orientation? How many times were you told that you would love Kenyon? How many times were you promised intellectual conversation with your new friends while walking down Middle Path? Kenyon places itself on a pedestal with promises of intellectualism, deep and lasting friendships and a sense of belonging. But what happens when reality inevitably can’t live up to this hype?

Kenyon is not utopia. It is not, despite what a recent YouTube video for admitted students would lead you to believe, Camelot. It is not perfect. Upperclass Counselors, CAs, orientation staff, academic advisors and a host of other advisory groups sit atop their one, two, or three years of college experience proclaiming the “Kenyon dream,” while seemingly forgetting just how difficult the beginning of college can be.

Let me be clear: There are moments at Kenyon that hold true to the image that society espouses about higher education. You will have intellectual conversations, make important friendships and experience personal growth. Yet these moments could not necessarily occur immediately after arriving at Kenyon. These moments take time. But we don’t say that. We tell first years that they’ll experience a sense of belonging right away. We don’t tell first years that with the highs of college come very real lows.

Yes, as upperclass students we should help first years feel excited about their new home, but not at the expense of being honest. Instead of normalizing feelings of stress and anxiety by acknowledging they exist, we hide them under proclamations of perfection and collegiate utopia.

During my first year at Kenyon, I found myself wondering if something was wrong with me when I didn’t experience the idealistic image of Kenyon that was painted for me during orientation. In my three years as a first-year CA, I’ve seen this pattern repeated again and again in subsequent first-year classes.

It’s time Kenyon stop perpetuating the image of a perfect college experience and start acknowledging that college is hard. It’s time to stop telling students that their undergraduate years are the best four years of their lives. College can be great. It can be a time of incredible growth, but it is also a time of uncertainty and anxiety. Let’s talk about it.

Sterling Nelson ’16 is a political science major from Golden Valley, Minn. Contact him at nelsons@kenyon.edu

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