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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Magical Microcosm or a Small Town Struggle

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There are many reasons to hate Carleton’s location, and many reasons I personally do. As an outdoorswoman, southern Minnesota leaves something serious to be desired. The state parks are small, the climbing is limited, the Boundary Waters are supposedly amazing, but they’re so far north I’ve never made it there, even as a senior. The downhill skiing is poor and the prairie depresses me in the winter.

I wish Carleton were in Colorado, or the Pacific Northwest, or any landscape vaster and more adventure-filled than these agriculturally plowed, turkey smelling fields. I dream of mesas, mossy rain forests and mountains—of places where a selfish winter doesn’t occupy more than its fair share of the year.

But I like Carleton. I chose this school, and of course it wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t in Northfield, just as I wouldn’t be the same if I weren’t born in Connecticut in a white clapboard house in the early 90s. Colleges and their cultures are interwoven with place, just as people are, and the pros and cons of big-city versus small-town will be so forever subjective they really are not worth writing about.

When I think about graduation, I think of the places I want to live and what I could do there, contemplate climbing in Utah, writing in San Francisco, traipsing around South America. But what I worry about most is loneliness.

Right now, the world beyond Carleton looks as empty as a Minnesota corn field in winter, void of that easy social life the proximity and environment of this place creates—the ability to text a friend and grab dinner, to run into people in Sayles or on fourth libe and say hello, joke around, have a casual conversation. We live in a kind of magical microcosm of friends, professors, events, club meetings, classes, and parties, flowing together in this odd and profound “college experience.”

In the future there won’t be the same impromptu meetings. We will live in different cities, have to coordinate schedules, take the subway, travel to see each other. We’ll need to create or find our own communities, whereas Carleton handed us this one with our Frisbees the first day of New Student Week. I’m not going to miss Minnesota, but I’ll certainly miss that. The effortlessness of it all. Carleton is a meaningful not because or despite of being in Rice County, Minnesota, but because of the network of friends and community this place engenders in your life. Place is important; people are infinitely more so.

This is not to say Carleton does not have its faults. On the contrary, I have no problem coming up with several vices characteristic of this college; exorbitantly expensive tuition, lack of diversity in student body backgrounds, classes that never live up to their course description, bureaucratic administrative decisions that feel as if every day they stifle student culture just a little bit more.

But though my privilege begs for complaints, I know overwhelmingly that this is a place of good, a sheltered inlet protected from the responsibilities of tomorrow. When Captain Hook asks Peter Pan who he is, Pan replies, “I’m youth, I’m joy…I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.” This is what Carleton allows us to be. My Minnesota woes are insignificant. Every day, a small sprinkling of responsibility is added to my plate: I get my car serviced, rake the leaves, take my dog to the vet and empty the dishwasher. We all know how this story goes. Next year it will be bills and taxes and (maybe, probably) loneliness. The never-ending current of adulthood. There is no avoiding it — only gratefulness for what I have here, now.

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