These weeks are the “Once upon a time” stage, the very first pages of spring semester. As all sixteen thousand activities are starting up again, we’re forming first impressions of classes and classmates and professors.
In one of my classes, a professor called our time here “magical,” and while Denison does not compare to the innocent plot symmetries of Disney movies, “magical” is probably a good term for it. When I make snow angels in the pure powder covering East Quad, when the snow glitters down from the sky to blanket Swasey, I begin to wonder whether I’m at school or transported into Frozen. I’d compare the delay of a deadline or a sudden meeting with a friend to the blessing of a fairy godmother’s spell.
But I’ve also felt the unexpected catastrophe seen in the original Grimm tales: I was numb with disbelief last year when I heard of the attempted arson and the suspension of fraternities, a feeling that coalesced into a dull sense of horror and disappointment. I hadn’t been here a year, and the “community” that Denison boasts had already collapsed a bit, had already fallen a little short of the utopia I’d hoped for.
We have the unique situation of a storybook within the context of a larger and harsher world. Those GE credits are merely magical golden apples to pick up on our quest for a degree: to apply for research, to press on to class through the arctic winter, to celebrate living in a state that giveth and taketh away -15 degree January weather.
And relatively, our quest is a walk in the park. The trek to A-quad is cold, whether it’s the five-minute jaunt of a first year from Shorney to Olin or the 25 minute quest Homesteaders endure. Denison students waddle like penguins, swaddled in layers on their way to class.
Over the past week, I’ve heard dozens of people swearing to leave for warmer states. As someone who has spent an impressive amount of the past week in my room, I can understand the tendency to hibernate, to shrink from responsibilities and hide until we can walk outside and retain feeling in all our fingers and toes.
But I can’t abandon this quest for a diploma that sometimes seems mythical. I can’t quit going to classes. I can’t learn much by sitting in my room. I cannot learn anything more about people, about the rich tradition of literature or the craft of writing, about the stories and lives of other Denisonians, unless I go outside and try.
And I cannot learn anything if I never leave Denison, either. We are being properly prepared. We are growing up, we are learning to define ourselves as we complete tasks that now seem Herculean. We are going to one day be away from Denison, and we are going to have to live and process like adults.
I’m nineteen. I have no idea what I’m talking about. But when I get cabin fever, not only within the confines of my dormitory but in the confines of a student body smaller than some high schools, when I feel as if I am drowning in my own history, in the precedents I have already set in my year and half here, it is comforting to know that there is more.
I don’t think “happily ever after” tells the whole story. Or if it does, it requires a lot of reading between the lines. The things we do here are youthful quests, teaching us morals and lessons and giving us friends and Facebook photos, but I hope there is more afterwards.