I’ve been a student at Kenyon longer than most people. As one of 37 second-semester seniors set to graduate in December (not to jinx it or anything), I know this campus like I know an old friend. So it’s ironic that the most profound emotion I’ve felt all semester is loneliness.
I guess it was to be expected. The friend group I spent the majority of my time with graduated last spring, so obviously life was going to look different. And between studying abroad my junior year and COVID upending the concept of normal life on campus, I haven’t had many opportunities to befriend underclassmen. I wasn’t under any impression that I would be crushing it in the social life department this semester. But I’m an introvert who generally enjoys spending time alone, and it wasn’t like I knew nobody, so I assumed my last semester at Kenyon would be fine.
Instead, it’s just day after day of feeling lost in my own home.
Before I get into it, I want to say that I love the friends I have on campus. They have been the brightest part of the past few months for me, and they save my life every other day. But having friends isn’t the same thing as having a community. There are people I feel safe with, but when the scheduled hangout time ends so does any sense of belonging. The loneliness is as deafening as the servery during a lunch rush — coincidentally, a place that has made me more aware of my isolation than anything.
I don’t mean to imply there’s some systemic problem here. I’ve always been of the opinion that Kenyon is a place filled with interesting, beautiful and very nice people. I know many of their names, like their photos on Instagram, wave to them on Middle Path. But I’ve struggled with social anxiety for pretty much my entire life, which makes it difficult to know how to acceptably overcome acquaintanceship. Like yeah, they complimented my George Catlin analysis, but do they really want to hear about my personal life?
As a second-semester senior, this anxiety has increased tenfold. I am just as desperate for connection as when I was a first year, but the people in my classes and residence hall are no longer in the same boat. They have built routines and support systems throughout their time here. They might be open to meeting new people, but it’s not a necessity. And I get it — I was the same way. My people just live in different cities now. So I’m back to square one, except I’ve also been here long enough to remember what Olin Library smelled like. It’s a weird place to be.
I recognize that a lot of my issues are self-imposed. I’m sure many people in my exact position would figure out a way to thrive. However, I know there is power in shared experience. I simply do not believe that I’m the only upperclassman who feels lonely or out-of-place. So yeah, I’m a little embarrassed to be writing this, and even more embarrassed to still be giving myself the same “put yourself out there!” pep talks that I was four years ago. But there’s a chance that reading this might make someone feel a little less alone. And if there’s anything I’ve learned this fall, it’s how valuable that can be.
I want to end this piece on a positive note. My last semester at Kenyon has been difficult, but it has made me more appreciative of when people are kind. I’ve learned to be more open about how I’m feeling, which I think has made the friendships I do have stronger. I try to start a conversation with one new person every day. It’s mostly for me, but it’s also for them. We all should feel seen and heard.
Mae Hunt ’22 is an arts editor for the Collegian and an English major from Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.