January 23, 2015
Early last semester, I sat idly in my Milbank common room with nothing but a box of chalk and a bare cement wall. It only seemed natural to connect chalk to wall, and in a reflective mood, I began the sentence “BEFORE I LEAVE HAMILTON, I WANT TO…” in bold block letters. I traced 10 lines underneath for me and my friends to fill in and create a cheesy, sentimental bucket-list.
I started off the list with small but meaningful tasks: perform at an open-mic, spend a solitary day in the Adirondacks and go to the observatory. My friend then added a fourth item to the list that trumped all of mine.
“Before I leave Hamilton…I want to have an impact,” she wrote. So vague, yet so profound. What does it mean to have an impact? Do we, as seniors, still have time to make an impact? Most importantly, what would it mean to graduate anonymously from this college, never having left our marks?
These questions freaked me out. I traced my roots from cutting blocks of cheese on Adirondack Adventure to the contribution I made in class that morning, and realized that what I contributed to Hamilton, as compared to some of my peers, seemed menial.
I was never class president. I never started a club. I was never featured as Hamilton’s poster child in an alumni campaign. I’m not graduating first in the class.
I settled on reality–I’m probably going to set that apple down on the podium at graduation not having made a profound mark on this institution.
After much consideration, though, I can now say that I’m just fine with that.
Here’s the reality: as individuals, we’re not all supposed to have an impact on a 200 year-old college. We can’t all expect to don superhero capes and make immediate, sweeping changes to an institution created when James Madison was in office.
Instead, Hamilton is supposed to have an impact on us.
I’m directing this at every senior who might look back on his or her time at Hamilton as four years that might have passed in vain. In reality: as long as you changed and grew in meaningful ways, this experience was everything you should have ever hoped for.
I know that Hamilton had an impact on me. Four years ago I was a scared, unsure first-year struggling with academics, fitting in with others and understanding fundamental aspects about myself. The first grade I ever received on a paper here was a 68. Friends came and went. I couldn’t understand my feelings of loneliness.
And then Hamilton changed me, slowly but surely. How do I know?
The most recent grade I received was a solid A (from the same professor that gave me a 68). I feel infinitely more sure of who I can trust. I’ve said to myself, “Wow, Em, you’re pretty awesome,” more times this month than I did in middle school and high school combined. The reality is that it wasn’t easy to get to my current place of contentedness. In fact, it was terrible more times than it was fun, but I can thank this college on the Hill for fostering my growth.
I’m not saying we should sit back and watch Hamilton transform us into adults. I’m actually saying quite the opposite. Get involved and try to change as much as you think fit, but if you don’t graduate having rendered major accomplishments, look inward to how you, yourself, have changed.
This one’s for the underclassmen: the more risks you take, the more you’re going to learn and grow. Cherish the experiences that suck because those will change you the most. Trust me, I studied abroad in one of the poorest countries in the world during my junior year. It was the worst three and a half months of my life, but I’d do it all over again after recognizing how much of a positive impact it had.
I might not have had an impact on Hamilton, but I have nothing but confidence that I left a mark on at least someone out there. It might have been a friend, a classmate or even a professor. I hope I affected the way someone looked at a social issue. I hope I taught someone something interesting in an academic realm. I hope I helped someone become more comfortable opening up about who they really are.
I hope that I helped foster an impact for someone, because feeling that impact from our school and everyone associated with it is what these four years were actually about.