Senior Retrospective: Nicholas Crooks

It’s absolutely terrifying how quickly time flies. It feels like just yesterday that I had arrived in my dad’s truck, lanyard around my neck, excited for my orientation and beginning of my college experience. I always thought that I would play collegiate basketball, but I decided to go to one rugby practice to see how I liked it. Before I knew it, I was traveling to Budapest and Barcelona to play against national teams. I remember going on the slip ’n slide at one of my first college barbecues; fast forward and I found myself preparing the burgers for the grill, while new recruits were slip ’n sliding outside. I’m getting old!

The other day, I was going through some photos and stumbled upon some pictures of myself from freshman year. The difference in appearance alone was earth-shattering; I was trying to rock a buzz cut, chubby red cheeks, and a feeble attempt at a goatee. However, appearance only scratches the surface of how much I have changed. The re- markable trait about pictures is that they remind you how you had felt when they were taken, memory stamps. Scrolling through these photos, I reminisced on what I was going through, what my goals were, and how my relationships have developed at several different points in time. Even just a year ago, I had the mentality of almost a completely different person.

It goes without saying that this contrast is highly attributed to the experiences and people that have defined by Vassar career. Plenty will be mentioned, but my time on the rugby team was by far the most influential, guided by the head coach Tony Brown and the assistant coach Mark Griffiths. Vassar isn’t exactly a school that attracts many athletes, and easily half of the recruits haven’t played a sport before in their lives. But with their enthusiasm, rigor, and creed humor, they were happy to whip us into shape, bringing out the best of our abilities. Last fall season, our men’s team was afraid that we couldn’t field a team with our limited numbers; this fall we won the conference championship. Over the last three years, our women’s team has repeatedly taken first place in Beast of the East, the biggest rugby tournament in New England. They have competed nationally multiple times, earning 2nd in the nation two years in a row.

Athletic achievements aside, our coaches and other staff are truly remarkable because they care deeply about each of us as individuals. When I tore my ACL and meniscus freshman year, Tony arrived at Main at 4:00 in the morning to drive me to the hospital for surgery. I also can’t express in words how grateful I am for Vassar’s athletic trainers, namely Susan Higgins, Ian Shultis, and Tabatha Santiago. Sports Medicine was like a second home, and with their help I managed to remain (mostly) in one piece. It’s also worth men- tioning that my time spent with my teammates, on and off the field, have truly made my Vassar career worthwhile. I can’t tell you how many grass stains I have removed from being tackled at rugby par- ties. Although the physical manifestations on my clothes were mostly removed, the memories will stick around forever, and will be deeply cherished.

Another influential staple of the Vassar community is the Outing Club, an organization which I sincerely wish I had spent more time with, be- cause my few experiences with them were incredible. I will never forget floating in a kayak down the Delaware River, singing alongside other rafters that I had met only a couple hours before. I will never forget cliff jumping at Fawn’s Leap in the Catskills, after struggling to find the trip organizer with limited cell service. Thinking of flying through the air, my heart still races to this day. Even outside of campus organizations, the enthusiasm and chance-taking ability of Vassar’s community is incredibly contagious. If there is a vision, Vassar students and staff would stop at nothing to achieve it. I remember the extensive late-night sessions working at Sanders Physics, working alongside other students to tackle problems that initially seemed impossible. Every time I went to Sports Medicine to regain strength and stability, I grinded alongside several athletes who were excited to heal from their various injuries. I also spent a lot of time at the Vassar Bike and DIY Repair Shop, working to restore an abandoned bike. The guidance and enthusiasm of the students in that shop helped replace every part on that bike, and continues to propel me forward for many miles, on two working wheels. I also re- member volunteering to plant trees and shrubs at Sunset Lake, and also volunteering at Habitat for Humanity with some teammates to restore a damaged household. Through both projects, all students involved were excited to make an impact on the community.

No matter where I ended up, I was amazed by the community fostered by working together to achieve a common goal. Many colleges are known to be competitive, as if every person for themselves; Vassar was completely the opposite. Well, almost completely. If you don’t get a good draw number, you can only dream of getting into certain classes (unless you’re an upperclassman or you need the class for your major). Open positions for work-study jobs are taken the same day that they are posted. Also, space-limited campus events are filled almost instantly. Like seriously, all spots for dinner at the president’s house were taken within 15 minutes of that e-mail being sent! Give the rest of us a chance!

The competition for spots only speaks to the incredible enthusiasm that Vassar students share. If there is one thing that I have learned here, it is to jump on any opportunity you can, as soon as you hear about it. If you snooze, you lose. The opportunities that I have stalled on and missed have made me infinitely more eager to jump on the next one. The opportunities that I have pursued, only some of which are mentioned above, have created the memories that have defined my Vassar experience, and I will cherish them as long as I live.

That being said, not all of my Vassar experiences were positive. No matter which path you take, there will be bumps along the road, and that’s OK. Negative experiences are just as, if not more valuable than positive ones, because there is much to gained from struggling through it. I am endlessly grateful for each of these memories because they have transformed me into the person that I am to- day. I am thankful to have torn my ACL freshman year, because it has given me a whole new appreciation for having two working legs. I am thankful for getting poured on and almost freezing in the White Mountains, because it has taught me to al- ways bring waterproof gear, even when the fore- cast doesn’t predict it.

A thought that never fails to take me aback is the concept that I will continue to have more experiences that will continue to mold my perspective on life. Vassar has been quite a ride, but it is only a prequel for what lies ahead. And I am excited for it. A Vassar degree is no guarantee of fair weather, but my legs will continue to bring me for- ward, at least until one of them gets injured again. Whatever the future brings, I will embrace it with open arms, ready for what the world has in store.

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