Senior Retrospective: Abby Johnson

I spend a lot of time thinking about the alternate life I would have had at Oberlin College, which was the place I almost went to before Vassar accepted me. Once, when I asked a professor who attended Oberlin what my life would been like if I had chosen Oberlin over Vassar, he responded that if I were at Oberlin, I would be lying high in a cornfield. So, maybe not so different from Vassar.

The reality is that I can never know what would have happened if I chose Oberlin over Vassar (or University of Rochester over Vassar or no college over Vassar). I have this one experience and I’m semi-convinced that I will wake up one day next February and this will all feel like a bizarre fever dream.

If writing this retrospective is supposed to be a processing, I’m not quite sure what to do because I certainly have not processed Vassar yet. I’ve barely begun to accept that by the time anyone is reading this, I will be expected to move out of my TH by 9 a.m. the next day.

However, I do think that I’m coming away from Vassar having learned a few things. When I left middle school, I was disappointed because I had finally figured out the most efficient strategies of getting out of gym class. I feel similarly about Vassar; I’m being forced to leave just as I think I have a handle on it.

In that vein, I’d like to leave a little bit of what I’ve learned here so it can remain on the internet and probably haunt me forever:

1. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. I could enroll for Intensive Elementary Italian second semester of my first year here. As someone who had never spoken Italian before and was generally not great at learning other languages, I should not have. But I did. I was really excellent at convincing my advisor that this was a smart move, but I was not excellent at actually learning or speaking Italian. In fact, I was very bad at it and today, I can say about five things in Italian.

2. Stay home on the weekends. This year, I passed two first years on the TH path debating whether or not they were should go home as it was not even midnight. I remembered all the parties and events I had attended just because I thought I was supposed to be doing something. Sometimes, you’re supposed to be in your bed doing nothing.

3. When someone calls you out, listen to what they’re saying, say thank you because they just did some labor, and do better next time.

4. You don’t have to check your email as often as I did. More than once, a professor or administrator remarked on how quickly I was answering emails. I’m pretty sure that was a nice way of them saying that I should chill out. If your email goes unread for an hour, that’s okay. I also am writing this knowing very well that I will probably not follow it, but I know it to be true.

5. Make your own Vassar routines. I read The Miscellany News every week and spent a lot of time critiquing it to my friends. I’m pretty sure that every Thursday for the rest of my life, I will have the urge to find a newspaper that I can read and judge.

6. People will pretty much leave you be if you need to cry in the retreat or the deece or the library or UpC or the Bayit or at VSA Senate or in class or in your bedroom or in the bathroom or the Chapel or Sunset Lake. I should know. I cried at all those places and some more.

7. Find some time to read books that are not for class during the school year. I think I learned how to do this in October of my senior year so it takes a while but I highly recommend it.

8. Hold your communities close and tell them how much you love them, even when you’re annoyed because they all showed up to a meeting late. They will be the buoys you both want and, at times, desperately need. With that being said, please indulge me in some sentimentality, as I thank three of those communities:

My house mates/grousemates (Calvin, Meghan, Jessica, and Zack): I love that I get to come home to you all every night. It’s pretty much the coolest thing ever that I spent a year living with such funny, smart, and loving people.

The Vassar Jewish Union: Four years ago, I attended Freshman Shabbat at the Bayit and I still distinctly remember it as the first time I thought I might find a home at Vassar. The VJU is the most fun, resilient, determined, thoughtful group of people. I’ve been so incredibly honored to be a leader in this group. Honestly, the whole time I wanted to pinch myself because these amazing people wanted to grow with me. I’m eighteen thousand times grateful.

My parents: I cannot believe I’m lucky enough to be your daughter. Thank you. I love you.

Mazel tov to the Class of 2017! It’s been a strange, sad, funny, and beautiful ride.

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