AAS President's Orientation Address
Issue   |   Wed, 09/12/2012 - 00:34

Class of 2016, please get an alarm clock that works well. I have tried many. There was even a time when my younger brother ordered a Sonic Boom alarm clock, which is exactly what it sounds like. It lived up to its name by shaking my mattress, blasting siren sounds and flashing red lights. It was way too much for me and my roommate. But I am now pleased to announce I have finally settled on a Casio 128 alarm clock, with a small, blue screen and a chipper, rousing alarm tone.
My point is not to tell you that you should time manage. I’m sure the importance of an alarm clock is not novel to you — you’ve practically been time managing since you were six. My point is to tell you that in college your concept of time will change. Time will be new, and it will be different. What used to be a 12-hour day in high school will now be significantly longer. What used to mean fast asleep now means cheap pizza in town. And before you know it, you’ve become the kind of person that thinks the library closes too early — 1 a.m., by the way.

College time is not normal time. It doesn’t really run by the watch. It is not constricted by 60-minute increments or 24-hour days. Every single day will feel wondrously long, built-in with conversations, activities and people. But at the same time, in those car rides or plane rides home, you will find yourself wondering, “Where did the time go?”

This summer, I spent my time in Mozambique, in Southern Africa, interning at a social literacy enterprise. One afternoon, I was having lunch at the local fish market, when a woman with a child came up to me. The woman’s name was Maria, she told me, as her baby girl clung to her leg. We started talking about ourselves. She sold seafood in the market, and she was waiting for the fishermen to bring in her shrimp. All of a sudden, she asked me, “Is that your husband?” pointing at the friend I was with. I was taken by surprise, and told her no, I wasn’t married. I asked her if she was married, and she replied yes, she had gotten married at 13. She said she had her first child at 14, and has had four others since then. I looked at her face lined with wise but tired wrinkles, I realized she wasn’t as old as I thought she was. Turns out, she was only 25 years old — five years older than I am.

Mozambique was an amazing experience filled with unexpected gifts from the people I thought I had gone to help. And one of these precious lessons was from Maria, who showed me how privileged we are, as students of Amherst, to have time. Time to focus on our studies. Time to meet new people. Time to grow as human beings. Time to make the most out of our precious stay here at Amherst.

By this, I don’t mean we should jam-pack our days with planned activities, making sure every single minute of our Amherst experience is filled up to the maximum. Not at all. As I go into my last year as a senior, I have come to realize a small secret that I’ll share with you — the time that matters most, the best memories you will have of Amherst, are when you are not acutely aware of time. It’s being in a great class, being engaged in an extra conversation with friends, overstaying your office-hour appointments with professors, reading a part of a book that wasn’t assigned in class, trying to complete the Val Challenge.

So when I say get a good alarm clock, I don’t mean get a good device to wake you up at a certain time. I mean get a good device to wake you up to give yourself time. Give yourself the time to be engaged, to be present. Give yourself the time to appreciate Amherst. That may mean being on top of your readings, or taking an extra nap to catch up on sleep. But if you give yourself time, you will then have time to go out and take risks, try things you have never done before — time to follow all the advice people tell us before starting college.

And before you know it, you will be looking back to this day, a week, a month or a year from now, and you’ll realize that you will be okay, because Amherst has become your home.

My timely 10 minutes should be running out soon, but I leave you with some words to think about — don’t waste time at Amherst. Taste time.