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Friday, Jun 21, 2024


Professors are funny people. I don’t mean funny as in odd: I mean humorous. In fact, I find myself laughing out loud in class several times a week. This happens even in the midst of the most serious discussions: I started guffawing rather boisterously today while the professor lectured about methyl mercury in aquatic ecosystems (which causes serious birth defects and lots of death — not funny, as a rule). But what was I to do when he explained a graph by saying:

“Here we have what the situation would look like without volcanic eruptions and blinking sneakers.”

Obviously there was a context to this, and with the context it actually made quite a bit of sense. In fact, embedded within the lecture material, it didn’t really warrant much more than a chuckle. But I am easily amused by professors; it’s an amusement that is a construct of my preconceived notions. Professors are supposed to be, in my mind, tweedy, woolen, pipe-smoking, quote-spewing, proof-solving, quill-carrying, pretention-radiating pillars of intellectualism. “Professor,” as a word, is sort of dusty, isn’t it?

It always catches me off guard, therefore, when — defying all such preconceptions with their rejection of houndstooth and their classroom dynamics — professors take it one step further and crack a joke.

Such is the shock of a generalization proved false.

Oh dear, now we’ve got a metaphor on our hands.

My artificial understandings of Middlebury College students prior to last fall defined, to some degree, my high school years. Throughout that time — generally understood to be mercilessly transitional and brutally eye-opening — I managed to avoid most angst. But one source of discontent as I grappled with soul-searching and identity was the fact — of which I was painfully aware — that I was not cool.

Don’t get me wrong: I had friends, I played sports, I had more moves than Shakira. But if I was cool at all, it was by high school standards (and even then, just barely). Middlebury College students on the other hand, wow, that sort of cool was just unattainable to me, and as I observed campus-dwellers in action I became increasingly conscious of my spot between zero and point three on the awesome scale.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. I remember walking across campus once with a group of friends, wearing my ski team jacket which reads, in huge letters across the back, “Middlebury Tigers.”

“Take off your jacket,” one friend demanded.

“It’s 20 degrees.”

“I don’t care. Would you rather announce to the whole campus that you’re a high school student, and embarrass the entire group and yourself, or freeze to death? Your choice.”

Obviously, I chose to freeze to death. I mean seriously, these people walked in slow motion with wind blowing in their perfect hair and they reeked of an intoxicating medley of illicit behavior and intellectual superiority. Was I really going to flaunt the fact that I was not one of them?

Imagine my excitement when I got into Middlebury. Ka-ching: free pass to a super fly existence.

Reality is a major bummer. Not that we’re a bunch of squares, but relative to my mind’s build-up, we’re fairly average. And suddenly, as one of the masses responsible for the ultimate cool, there is this whole new question of how I am going to demonstrate that.

So far, I have a feeling, I have turned out to be the joke among the tweed expectations.