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Vulnerability an essential component of college experience

11/10/15 3:33pm

Avoiding the odors of a communal bathroom, side-stepping vomit or watching the defiant nakedness that is Baker 13 isn’t all that enjoyable. In fact, my list is relatively demure. Yet, we all manage to cope in this microcosm of the real world that is both extremely small and incredibly close. College seems to be a long-respected tradition of throwing together a group of freshly branded “adults” while they attempt to figure out life. I don’t doubt that the potion of Rice was prudently brewed by the admission council: a little chaos, stress, intellect, quirkiness, recklessness, impulsivity and a hint of sexual tension. I had already anticipated a lot of this from college, but it’s the other half of the equation that isn’t widely broadcast: the vulnerability when practically every part of your life is exposed. 

I remember the first time I awkwardly watched someone cry. The culmination of stress, frustration and even confusion as to the origins of the meltdown led to the depletion of an entire bag of dark chocolate and Kleenex box. I observed as a bystander, feeling both incredibly out of place and fascinated at how abruptly I had advanced from acquaintance to newly acquired friend. This wasn’t as enjoyable as the time I watched people I had met sober during Orientation Week dance decidedly less so as that first party progressed. However, in a way, both experiences are the same. It took one instance for their exterior to crack, but once the initial level of intimacy was broken they suddenly became more accessible.

We all watch each other stumble through experiences, both pleasant and painful. The way we maintain sleep deprivation, inebriation, waking up late, heartbreak or a difficult problem set aren’t difficult to find. Unlike any other time in our lives, we no longer have the option to exist under a veil of formality and ignore basic truths about ourselves. I have yet to find a more effective way to expose the true nature of a human being than to watch them undergo midterms. It’s that formative stage in any budding friendship. Some people show a more caustic, aggressive side, others an unexpected resilience and control, and even better perhaps a warmth or empathy.

However, it is increasingly difficult to vilify or idolize when the identity of our acquaintances and friends unravel a little further, as their imperfections, abilities, failures and fascinations are made clearer. It gives us an opportunity to be vulnerable that few people would willingly choose. And in these relatively extraordinary circumstances, we manage to adapt. Vulnerability is an awkward word, but it’s one of the few that seems to truly characterize college life.

This is my justification for the importance of a real, illustrious and slightly flawed college experience. During this time in our lives, we manage to refine our understanding of what “living” is to so many people that are drastically different than us. Our experience here allows us to embrace a more accurate representation of humanity. Perhaps this is little consolation for having to do your own laundry, waiting in that long line at Coffeehouse, or having to tolerate that one dorm that won’t turn down their music. It seems like that’s the point.

Eilzabeth Myong is a Hanszen College freshman. 

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