I have thought about the above question for as long as I have been at Kenyon, and even as a sophomore, I am still not sure if I can answer it.
The preoccupation of getting into a “good” college consumed my life beginning in the ninth grade. Even though admissions officers encourage potential applicants to pursue what they love in high school, I thought I knew better.
I was convinced I had to enroll in every Advanced Placement course offered, to participate in every extracurricular activity available and to win every possible award. From then on I structured my life around my college application without a second thought.
My flippant disregard for my more immediate needs — namely, sleep and leisure — seems in retrospect ill-advised, but that’s not to say that I have now evolved beyond my high school mentality. Rather, my high school approach to responsibilities bred in me an unhealthy approach to stress, such that I still find it hard to move past my high school tendencies.
As a first year at Kenyon, I did not immediately fall in love with any extracurricular activities. I found myself with an unprecedently unstructured life, unlike in high school, where I virtually had no free time. Aside from studying and attending class, I passed my time enjoying life in Gambier — hanging out with friends, going on hikes and reading books on the lawn outside my dorm.
But even in the midst of all this relaxation, a cycle of pernicious thoughts looped in the back of my head. I’m not doing enough … Why am I not as busy as everybody else? What do I do when someone asks about my extracurricular involvement? Where are those leadership roles that would look so good on job applications?
In short, my apparent lack of stress was stressing me out. No matter what I did, my impulse to overcommit myself remained. I knew that if I became as involved at Kenyon as I was at my high school, my stress levels would shoot up, but if I decided to remain relatively uncommitted, my own masochistic need for stress would produce comparable amounts of anxiety.
By the time second semester had rolled around, I decided to become more involved than I had been before. Though I do enjoy all the individual things I now do, I have mixed feelings about my overall level of involvement. On the one hand, I appreciate the opportunity to leave my mark on this campus. On the other hand, I wonder if my newfound obligations are only sustaining the high school mentality long after it would have naturally died.
I don’t know what the eventual repercussions of my decision will be. Will I ever be able to let go of my stress? Will I ever become more than a high schooler in a Kenyon sweatshirt? Perhaps by talking about issues like this I can move past my shortcomings; at least, I hope that is the case.
And where does writing a piece for the Collegian fit into this resolution? Maybe it is naïve of me, but I earnestly believe that community dialogue is a good way to start dealing with our personal issues. I want these pages to be a space where we can all come to a greater understanding of ourselves and each other. So — let’s discuss together.
Cameron Austin ’20 is a mathematics major from Chattanooga, Tenn. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.