A welcome to Earlham College's incoming class

(This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2013 edition of The Earlham Word, printed for new students beginning their first year at the college.)

Like many of you are doing now, I arrived as a new student on this campus not so many years ago, ready to see what college would be about. With too much luggage and an anxious but supportive parent in tow, I experienced the enthusiastic welcome as we drove up the main drive, the surveying of my dorm room, the slightly awkward and then quickly enjoyable meeting of my roommate, checking out the cafeteria, figuring out my mailbox, and breathing in the sights and sounds of the new place I would call home for a while.

These are moments and traditions that you'll all experience differently, but they're just a few in the many pieces of a journey that, across space and time, you're sharing with thousands of other Earlhamites who have also called this place home.

The adventure of that journey will almost certainly contain deep joy and exceptional challenges. There will almost certainly be love and loss, shocking moments of new perspective, and changes in course that you'd swear today could never happen to you. You will be changed by this place in ways you may not fully notice until months or years later, and you will change those around you both with your big ideas and with the quiet moments of understanding or kindness that you show them. You will undoubtedly screw up, maybe in a big and public way, maybe in a small way that only you feel, but you'll also learn new kinds of humility and forgiveness that will serve you well.

If I have regrets about my own time at Earlham, there are three worth holding up here in case they're helpful to you:

One is that I pretty much ate nothing but cereal for the first three months at Earlham. It's not that the other food wasn't good, but an "all you can eat" cereal bar was too good to pass up. It turns out that cereal and milk alone is not a sufficiently balanced diet, and I can't recommend this approach.

Another is that I held on too long to the instinct - developed and honed in high school - to be protective of my heart, to avoid vulnerability, and to not risk embarrassment or just being wrong. In a place where so many amazing people, ideas and possibilities are coming together for what ends up feeling like a fairly brief time, I wish I had done less hesitant testing of the waters and more diving in and being carried away. The entire college experience is created around making it safe and possible to do so, and when I learned to let go, I had some of the best experiences (and made some of the best friends) of my life.

Last is that I probably took for granted how many unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities the Earlham student experience offers. There are classes that may have nothing to do with your major or fields of interest, but that you should take anyway. There are off-campus programs that may sound too demanding, but will be trips you talk about for the rest of your life. There's a whole extended community of faculty, staff, alumni and Richmond residents who are excited to see you succeed, but sometimes you have to seek them out to see what they can bring. You CAN go through life at Earlham waiting for interesting things to happen to you, but I think it's better when you go in search of those things yourself.

Whatever your approach, I hope you settle in, open up, and work hard to get the most out of this time as so many before you have. Welcome to the Earlham community - and go easy on the cereal.

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Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie is an Internet tech geek, problem solver, community-builder and amicable cynic.

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