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The Carletonian

Smoke and mirrors: A reflection on expected happiness at Carleton

<sked incoming freshmen to answer the question,“Why did you choose Carleton?” My idealistic, naïve freshman self had a list of reasons why Carleton was going to be the perfect fit for me. I recently went through the points from my own first article, just so I could go back and contradict myself. If you’re a freshman reading this, I don’t mean to burst your bubble so quickly. But I also have no desire to coddle you. So here I give you what my expectations of Carleton were and how they almost all fell short. These points are from my experiences only, and are probably true at colleges besides Carleton. You may have very different experiences. I genuinely hope that you do.

To start off on a light note, I wrote that I was looking forward to regularly going to Dacie Moses’ House to bake and play games while I waited for cookies. I don’t know why I wanted this. I hate cooking. I don’t play games (in any sense of the word “games”). It was one of those activities I attempted to enjoy and really didn’t care for. If I could do it over, I’d still try everything I was interested in freshman year, but drop what I didn’t like more quickly.

When I applied to Carleton, I remember reading online that therapy dogs gathered on the Bald Spot every finals period. As an animal lover, I was over the moon to hear this. However, these puppy parades never happened. Occasionally the dogs appear at SHAC. What I should’ve really questioned, though, is why are these dogs needed? I understand finals are stressful times in high school and probably at other colleges. But academics at Carleton cause an unparalleled amount of stress and anxiety. So many students here are more tightly wound than freshly packaged yo-yos. Carleton College is a stressful environment. There’s no way around it.

Elaborating on this conclusion, I wrote that after coming for Accepted Students’ Days, Carls “looked genuinely happy.” There are some genuinely, unadulterated, optimistically happy students here. I’m lucky to have some of them as friends. But there is also a great deal of smoke and mirrors going on here. There’s a lot of unhappiness, a lot of doubt, and a lot of cover-up of these emotions on campus. I think that students
responding to their own unhappiness and that of their friends is what produces a community of such sensitive and socially aware (in some ways) individuals.

I wrote I was looking forward to a non-competitive campus. My high school peers were outwardly, vocally, snoopily competitive. There definitely isn’t that same sort of outward expression of academic competition at Carleton. But I can’t even count how many times I’ve had somebody “covertly” inquire about my GPA or how I’d answer a paper prompt or what I was applying to in order to get some desired information. I never liked and still don’t revel in comparing grades, but if you want to ask, ask. The hidden competitiveness of campus doesn’t do anybody much good.

“Carls are just so friendly!” Yes, I still think this is true.But maybe Carls are a little too friendly at times. I’ve had a handful of experiences here where individuals are overly friendly to the point it borders on stalking. My first couple years here I tried to be a people-pleaser and exceptionally friendly to everyone. You don’t have to put on that front. I think we could all take down a dose of directness here. Earlier on, I wish I wasn’t as afraid to tell people “no” if I wasn’t interested. I should’ve been more blunt. It’s easy to avoid being honest on this campus, but I still think it’s the best policy.

I felt like I found a lot of false promises in my time here, but I found some amazing things as well. My professors have been superb. I don’t think they could get any better. I’ve had incredible experiences abroad through the support of Carleton. As cliché as it sounds, I’ve met incredible people here. But just don’t come into campus waiting for an adult Disneyland. I’m sure you’ll navigate your own way. We all do. If I could talk to my New Student Week self in hopes to improve that first year, I’d say this: Be decisive. Be direct. Be honest. Get help if you need it. Be confident in your abilities. And most of all, be unapologetically yourself. 

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