When I see a group of prospies walking around campus, purple lanyards dangling and parents in tow, I always think, “Do I look cool right now? Do I look awesome enough to make them want to come here? GODDAMNIT I should have worn sunglasses, sunglasses are cool.” My first instinct is to run up to that one prospie girl looking bemusedly around Norris, hug her and tell her what a great place Northwestern is. I want to comfort her – I remember all too well the hellish netherworld that was applying to and choosing a college – and then convince her that this is where she should be.
But after that initial rush of Wildcat pride, I always get to thinking. And it’s a problem.
I have a lot of issues with Northwestern, despite the many, many blessings I have derived from my time here. I hate that despite the intelligence of our student body, we still have thoughtless instances of racial insensitivity on a regular basis, like the racist Olympics last year, or Ben Slivka’s Facebook message to Pleshette Strong. I hate that some students have found going on so unbearable that they have taken their own lives. I hate that we’re all so stressed and overburdened with activities. Sometimes I wonder if I can really recommend Northwestern to prospective students, given the deep rifts in our community that will take years, decades, maybe even forever to fill.
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other,” Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve always loved that quote, and I think about it a lot. No one can ever really know what another person is thinking, and that is a difficult thing to accept. I can never know if that awestruck prospie girl will like Northwestern, if she will revel in the many pieces that make up our one campus or if she’ll feel utterly lost. I can’t know if something will happen here that will alienate her, or if she’ll meet the love of her life.
What I know is my own experience here, and I know that it has been a good one. I love my friends, I love the opportunities I’ve gained, I love (most of) my classes and I love how much I’ve grown. The racial incidents I mentioned earlier, for example, have made me more aware of the inequalities everywhere around me. They’ve demonstrated what I learned in sociology classes and forced me to confront my own complicity. Even my family can see the change. When I called my sister a couple of weeks ago, I told her that I had watched The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement over the weekend with my friends.
“It’s such an entertaining movie,” I said. “It really brought back our childhood. But –”
“Let me guess,” she said. “It’s racist and sexist.”
What can I say? Northwestern, with all its issues with diversity and inclusion, has led me to be more thoughtful in my own words and actions. It’s made me more aware of the way we put each other down and perpetuate stereotypes without even realizing. I know that I can’t change that aspect of the world or even that aspect of Northwestern overnight. But I can change the way I talk and the way I act, and I’m so grateful that this school opened my eyes to that.
That’s what I love about Northwestern: That here I have been able to forge my own path. I've been able prove my own strength. Having a meaningful experience at this school requires you to be self-aware, or to learn to be. You have to in order to navigate the fragmented social scene, the sea of academic options, the frustrating bureaucracy and your own overwhelming heart.
That’s hard and not always fair. There are a lot of people Northwestern could do a better job of taking care of. We could all do a better job taking care of each other. But I also think we could do a better job of looking at ourselves and saying, “Okay. Only I really know myself. Can I do this? How can I do this? Do I want to do this? Do I need help doing this?”
In the end, I can only control my own actions. I can extend a hand to someone in pain. I can study hard, or party harder. I can join a club, or not join it. I can ask for help. I can decide to make my experience at Northwestern worth something. I can try to make someone else’s experience better, too, and even if I don’t succeed, at least I did what I could.
So, based on what I’ve done, and what I’ve felt, I would recommend Northwestern wholeheartedly to that prospie girl. I would tell her the whole, unvarnished truth of my experience with this school. I would tell her where I think we’ve failed, and how far we have to go. I would also tell her about everything I love here. And I would hope that she, who may seem cute, or nice, or happy or witty or shy, but in the end is a profound secret and mystery to me and every other, would then be able to decide for herself if Northwestern is right for her.