Try to Enjoy It Even When It Tries to Kill You
ART BY AVA HUDSON
Let me be the first to say I have beef with this university.
As I wrote in the Tufts Observer last spring, I am engaged in an all-out war with Tufts over when they will let me out of this place. Tufts makes it uniquely challenging to be a student, with burdensome and arbitrary graduation requirements such as the residency requirement, overfilled classes for which you cannot register even if they are required for your major, falling-apart facilities filled with asbestos, faculty leaving for better-paying jobs in less toxic workplaces, and an endless supply of administrators that seemingly cannot answer a single question for students but can fundraise endlessly for an institution with one of the worst financial aid programs of its peers.
That said, there are some reasons to love this place, even when it seems to hate you.
Through my studies here, I have met professors who have truly changed my entire worldview and my life trajectory. Taking Professor Fahlberg’s Political Sociology class during my freshman fall thankfully saved me from majoring in International Relations—imagine that—and set me on the path to study sociology and movement dynamics. Readings from that class are appearing in my senior honors thesis literature review. Professor Sobieraj showed me that media studies and the sociology of the internet could help me make sense of the terrifying online world I had discovered through political organizing in New Hampshire, giving me a lexicon to describe my digital surroundings. Professor Pennington illuminated a long and complex history of queer pop and rock that enabled me to describe my identity through the language of music. There are more incredible faculty members that I will fail to name and uplift but whose teaching will remain with me throughout the rest of my life.
Outside of the classroom, the Tufts community has plenty to offer in extracurriculars. I have found so much joy in my artistic experiences here. Two weeks into my freshman year, I joined the Tufts Amalgamates, a chaotic decision chock full of extreme highs and devastating lows that left me with some of the closest friends I have ever known. I got to be in musicals that took two weeks, two months, and even just 24 hours to put together. I directed a weird little play, made the actors perform it on Tisch Roof, and asked the audience to sit on the ground to watch it. I get to sing with two phenomenal jazz orchestras of virtuoso musicians who are also incredibly kind people, and I even get to sing a few songs with a rocking Klezmer ensemble. I get to direct an incoherent musical called HAIR—a long-standing dream I have had since freshman year of high school—with some of my best friends and some of the most enthusiastic and talented actors I have ever met.
I even get to write for this super cool literary magazine called the Observer, if you’ve ever heard of it.
Speaking of those best friends, I have met some of the greatest people I know at Tufts. I have met activists who deeply inspire me, artists who provoke me, scholars who have taught me so much, and people who have so much kindness in their hearts that it melts my cynicism about this place. My housemates consist of two driven abolitionist activists with the voices of angels and a biologist who surprised me recently by being a triple-threat musical theater star. I get to live with these people! I would not have met them if I did not attend this school.
I refuse to give this university any credit for providing me with happiness when that happiness is often outweighed by the stress it has caused me. So I won’t give the university credit—but the university is where these things happened.
The original prompt of this essay was to provide incoming first-years with advice. As a wisened old super-senior at the ripe old age of 23, I cannot promise I have any unique wisdom, but I do have some experience, so my advice is the following.
Find your people, cling to them with an iron fist, and try to enjoy as much time with them as possible. While this place often sucks, the people here are undeniably great. Throughout my fights with the administration, trusted faculty and friends have supported me, advocated for me, held me while I cried with frustration, and encouraged me to keep fighting against unjust requirements. When I get really down and out about Tufts, the best cure is to spend a few hours hanging out with my housemates, or go to rehearsal for whatever show I am working on, or jam with the band in a Granoff practice room, or go to my advisor’s office hours. Do not expect that these people will just magically fall into your lap; college is huge and the first few friends you make might ultimately be duds. You have to kiss frogs to find your friends. Give yourself patience and grace to find the real ones, and meet as many people as you can to give yourself the best chance. Take the time to get to know people—instead of going straight back to your dorm after your chemistry lecture, ask the person sitting next to you if they want to grab coffee at the Sink. Learn something new about someone every day.
Do things because you enjoy them, not because they fill your resume. Something uniquely frustrating about this campus is that everyone seems to be doing 150 things at once, and somehow everyone is the president of a club and has two internships and a paid research opportunity and runs a volunteer program and is over-enrolled in credits. Take it from someone who currently has a full time job and has been full-time employed semi-consistently since my sophomore year… none of that stuff matters to future employers (if that is who you are trying to impress by overfilling your plate). There are lots of cool opportunities on this campus and you should absolutely explore them, but make sure to save time for sleep, rest, and spending time with friends, and choose activities that provoke you, light a fire in you, or that you simply enjoy.
In my kitchen the other night, my housemate and I were discussing this Tufts trend of having to be overbooked and overworked. I told her I deeply admire that she has several passions that she prioritizes and still manages to have ample time to sleep, take care of herself, exercise, and enjoy simple pastimes. We talked about how easy it is to feel inadequate and not-busy-enough, but ultimately the real winners (and the ones with the clearest skin and the easiest dispositions) are the ones who take on a manageable load, not an impressive load.
Leap out of your comfort zone and be game for anything. Do not read my cynical essay and make cynicism your thing. My older brother told me as I matriculated to college that the people who end up with the most friends and the happiest college experiences are the ones who are genuinely enthusiastic about everything—not the ones who are too cool for school. Let me add an addendum to this wise advice: not only should you strive to be excited about everything (or fake it until it becomes real), but you should seek out new things that are out of your comfort zone and embrace the risk. Agree to as many things as possible. Try everything once. A friend you met last week found cheap concert tickets for tomorrow night? The girl who lives across the hall from you wants to go to the climbing gym? Your lab partner wants to go to the tango club in Central? Take advantage of every offer. You might not know what hidden talent or passion is waiting patiently inside you to be wrestled out.
I used to think that torturing myself, forcing myself to be the hardest worker with the most stressful load, would make me happy in some ironic way, but it turns out the secret to happiness is letting yourself enjoy things and doing things that you enjoy. College is an endurance test; it will be hard and at times it will be miserable, as the rest of your life may also be. Luckily for you, you have four years to teach yourself how to find levity in the dark moments at a time in your life where there are very few long-term consequences. Savor it, and fail courageously and often. Dust yourself off, smile, and do it again. Life after Tufts will be a never-ending series of systems trying to rob you of your joy. Learning how to make your own happiness is the greatest resistance against the institution’s effort to crush you.