Before I left for college, I truly believed that if I could skip the whole thing, and just start teaching elementary school, I’d be a whole lot happier. I wanted to be a teacher. It’s how I wrote my college admissions essay. It’s how I chose my freshman writing seminar. It was a driving force behind why I was going to college. Hopefully, I’d make a few friends, a few memories, but that was really an afterthought. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew who I was and who I wanted to be. But because of Vassar, I ended up somebody entirely different.
It’s hard to go back and think about where it started. Reading through old journal entries from freshman and sophomore year, I kept thinking, I barely remember being that person. I had forgotten how adamant I was that I needed to be home where things made sense, how strongly I refused to adapt to my new environment. I contemplated joining house team, but decided not to. I got involved in clubs, but not too involved. I never wanted to commit to sticking around Vassar on a weekend I didn’t have to. I had forgotten that sense of urgency I felt, driving home as often as I could justify, dreading returning to Vassar on Sunday.
It’s laughable now, as I remember this summer, feeling ecstatic about coming back to campus early. It’s funny, as I think about driving to Vassar on January 3, to spend a weekend in my empty SoCo, just because I didn’t want to be away for the whole break.
The full story of how I got from one state of mind to the other, while a good one, is a long-winded, personal, incoherent jumble of emotions. But if I had to boil it down to one thing, Vassar, and more specifically the people I’ve met here, won me over through ordinary and extraordinary acts of kindness.
Freshman year, it was the stranger who saw me crying outside the College Center and offered me tea. The friends who, when I was homesick on the first night of Chanukah, insisted I eat pizza and watch Elf with them. The realization that, unlike in high school, when I ran into people I knew, they would actually smile and say hello. My roommate, who somehow patiently and lovingly put up with me missing my family in New Jersey, while her family and friends were in Africa. Joining Hunger Action and finding out there are other people that will get up early on a Saturday morning to do community service and those people are some of the best people.
Sophomore year, it was the senior who told me that if I didn’t find people to go to the ABC party with, to send her a text because everyone should go at least once. The junior who volunteered to help me assemble my bookshelf. The floormate who happily came and removed a stink bug from my room, on a day that I was just too stressed to handle anything else. All of it done without hesitation, just because we shared something, a club, a floor, a house, a school. By junior year, I’d realized it was okay to ask for help. In fact, it was one of the best ways to make friends. As cliché as it sounds, for the first time in my life, I had friends who I knew would be there for me. Friends that go to the Deece with you even if they’ve already eaten. Friends you text in the most awkward situations or call when you’ve had the best day ever. Friends whose houses you enter without knocking and whose rooms you feel as comfortable in as your own. Friends you know you can ask anything of, but usually don’t even need to.
With these amazing people, in this amazing place, senior year has been a more interesting, stressful and rewarding year than I ever imagined. In September, as others started classes, I started student teaching, 40 hours a week in a classroom full of wonderful second graders. Back to school night, grading tests, checking homework, writing lesson plans, it was everything I ever wanted. Yet I found myself desperately carving out time in the evenings to do something I loved even more than teaching: being a Vassar student. It was a difficult schedule to manage, usually resulting in a lack of sleep and sometimes simultaneously reviewing math worksheets while playing Cards Against Humanity. There wasn’t another option though, because staying connected to this community kept me sane. People laugh at the idea that being on VSA council, with its massive weekly time commitment, actually helped to keep me from losing my mind this year, but it did. It taught me that it’s often the most stressful weeks that are the most memorable and nothing compares to working on projects you are passionate about with people you enjoy spending time with. It allowed me to appreciate Vassar in new ways and embrace my identity as a student, as a member of the Vassar community to the fullest. It was as I held onto that identity so tightly, that I began to recognize all that it meant to me.
As I graduate and leave the place and the people that I’ve held onto so tightly this year, I can’t say that I’m not scared. Along with that fear though, I have faith. Despite it being my middle name, I’ve never taken much of a liking to that word, faith. But that is what Vassar has given me, faith in others, faith in myself and faith that we’re all going to go out, and in big ways and small ways, make the world better. Congrats Class of 2014 and thanks for everything.
—Rebecca Bauer is the outgoing president of the South Commons