As another year at Amherst gets underway, the differences from the previous school year become more and more apparent. We notice the new haircut of a classmate or the worldly experiences the study abroad students have gained. The routine of asking what you did over the summer or about class schedules floods back. Our relationships are forced to adjust to the change as well. What seemed so second nature last semester seems to differ from that, reality this semester.

When arriving at any new place, unfamiliarity and disorientation are expected. These feelings are both imagined and physical. Here you are, with unfamiliar thoughts, hallways and buildings. There’s a nervousness that comes with the mystery, but also a thrill. There’s an implicit promise that the corners will unfold themselves and that this place will lose its mystique and become a home.

As we approach the end of the year, the campus seems to be brimming with nostalgia. Suddenly, the weather is nice again and we remember what it’s like to be here on the really good days. Commencement approaches and the “end” calls us to turn around and look backward. What do we see when we reflect on our experience? What constitutes the Amherst experience, and further, is there even such a thing? With our diverse student body, it is quite difficult to imagine a single Amherst experience.

With the grad fair taking place in Keefe, theses being completed and senior photos flooding Facebook timelines, the fact that graduation is just around the corner has become increasingly clear. Many seniors, overwhelmed by emails and impending deadlines, are already feeling the swirl of emotions that graduation brings. Amidst all of these feelings, there likely exists a small feeling of regret: regret about that class they didn’t enroll in or that risk they didn’t take.

Over the weekend, a swarm of prospective students surrounded our campus, full of questions and expectations. They struggled to differentiate the yellow Keefe Campus Center from the yellow Loeb Center. They paused by the dozens of identical brick buildings, trying to assess the merits and disadvantages of this school while cautiously walking around campus, unable to know where their path might take them. The new adventure of college awaits them, as well as all the mysteries surrounding it.

Walking through the stacks of Frost Library reminds us of the overwhelming volume of published material in the world. No matter how many classes we take, there are always more books we could read, more textbooks from which we can learn and more people to whom we can listen. There is so much we will not know simply because of limited time. However, the feeling of not knowing enough should not become a state of hopeless stagnation.

American culture demands that college students experience immense personal growth during their education. Under such external pressure, how can we make our time and growth at Amherst meaningful? It can feel as if the worth of our education is often framed as dependent on how much we change or how much we learn. While the pursuit of growth is an admirable ambition, we should be cautious of obsessing over volume and should remain critical of what our growth actually looks like. What are the indicators of development? Who chooses those indicators?

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