As Spring Term of my senior year hurdles to its inevitable and celebratory conclusion, I find myself investing in small rituals: weekly lunches with a friend I made during our time living in Post as freshmen, dinners with my advisor when we can and attending every party I know about on the weekends with as many people as possible. Suddenly, I love those around me far more fiercely than before. I get less sleep than during my most frenzied finals weeks but, as I keep telling myself, this is my last chance to be in college.
This is all beautiful. Fulfilling. I’m investing deeply in long standing relationships and abandoning caution with new ones. I find myself more honest, more open. I’m neglecting my homework. But I’m also neglecting one of the skills I’ve spent the past four years at Knox attempting to hone my ability to look outward.
We publicly consider ourselves a globally minded, diverse campus. When you bother to check the statistics, such claims fall flat — but nevertheless, most classrooms I’ve occupied here have at least tried to remind me that there is a world greater than myself, that I come to it with certain privileges and perspectives, and that as a soon-to-be degree-holding person, it is imperative that I use those privileges to identify and rectify wrongs. I am supposed to be walking off the stage on June 5 toward a future in which I am central to social change.
And in a sense, maybe I am. At least I’m aware that Knox was trying to get me to that point. At least I know that this degree I’m earning isn’t only intended to be my ticket to a paycheck. And yet with the looming prospect of actually living this “globally conscious” future, I find myself increasingly turned inward, more selfish and tunnel-visioned than ever before. With Knox almost in the rearview mirror, I try to detach from its trials and tribulations, its battles, theoretically because it won’t matter to me in my future.
Take Galesburg itself: As a non-resident, it’s easy not to be bothered by the water crisis despite my off-campus apartment and constant questions from my relatives about the Environmental Protection Agency. In a month or so, I’ll be gone anyway, I keep saying. It doesn’t impact me anymore.
Only, and if there’s no other reason for me to care, what about the people I love whom it does impact? What about the people who hired me and mentored me, what about the people who made my coffee and offered to help load new furniture into my car?
And while I think those thoughts, identify the problem in terms of the faces and names I recognize in this small town which is not quite but not not my home, it occurs to me that my desire to cling to my personal attachment to this place is overwhelming my ability to enact the very qualities I spent this time acquiring. I sound like the people who use “she’s someone’s sister/mother/daughter/wife” as an argument against sexual violence toward women, as though “she’s someone” were not enough. I have made a large-scale, critical problem only matter to me in terms of myself. And that’s a pretty poor use of my degree.
It’s hard not to each see the world from our own perspective. We’re learning on this campus to define what we believe, to pinpoint ourselves and the places we’re coming from, and that type of awareness is enormously important to our individual successes once we graduate. But we’re also theoretically learning how to take others’ perspectives into account. We’re learning why we, as whoever we are wherever we are, have an obligation to care about a problem thousands of miles away not because it harms us directly but because we are empathetic, human-centric people with the education and resources to affect positive change.
The most important thing I have learned at Knox is that there are times when I, personally, do not matter the most. I could stand to remember it more often.
So what I’m saying is not necessarily intended as advice. Perhaps this is a time when I use this platform to hold myself accountable instead: Embrace the people you love here. Hold onto them as tightly as you can and, especially as a Spring-Term senior, remember all the things about Knox which worked for you personally. But don’t let it trump all else.
No matter where you wind up, you had an impact on this place as it did on you. Even when it doesn’t make a difference to you, individually, daily. It always makes a difference.