I was going to write you a typical, short-verse thank you note that delivers on all the major points – I am Jack, thanks!, giving is great – which is what I’ve been doing at these letter writing sessions for the past three years. But I’ve decided to do something different this time. I graduate in six weeks, and as a result I have become nostalgic, a heartfelt romantic. And because this is my last chance – my last hurrah within the realm of benefactor letter writing – I have decided that it’s only fair that I explain myself a bit more than I have in the past, and speak to why it is that the money you invested in my education is far more meaningful than any money siloed up in a vault or traded on a stock exchange.
I traveled 3,000 miles to come to CMC. Every other school I applied to was within 200 hundred miles of my house, and complied with my mom’s “four hours from home” rule that all but limited my selection of colleges to ones in the Northeast. When I first arrived here pre-orientation, it was the first time I had ever been on campus. And while I knew of CMC’s reputation within the liberal arts community and its rave reviews in the many customized college rankings handbooks supplied by my high school and mother, I still felt like I was throwing a Hail Mary by coming here.
My first few days here were terrifying, in part because I didn’t go on WOA!, which made me feel disoriented and at a social loss. Not knowing anyone soon changed, however, as my new roommate and his generous parents took me out to dinner only hours after my own parents boarded a plane back to New York. That first night, we talked about how fun our first year was going to be. And as I began to accumulate friends throughout that fall and spring, and as the fear of being on my own, of being in a new place, slowly disintegrated, I soon realized that we had been right; it was really fun.
Looking back on those surreal first few weeks three and a half years later, though, I’m not so sure that not making friends was really my deepest fear. That’s sort of a BS and irrational fear at a school like CMC, because naturally, whether immediately or during my four years here, I knew I was going to make friends- many of them lifelong.
What I really feared was rapid change- the kind that transforms you into a totally different person in a mere four years. And yet no matter how scared I was of change, I knew that going to California, to CMC, was a necessary means of self-discovery; it was something that I just needed to do.
The things I know now that I didn’t back then — the person I have become, the experiences I have had, the friends I have made, the advantages I’ve reaped by having left New York instead of attending college in the Northeast– none of them can have a price tag put on them, individually or collectively. Sometimes, we gasp at our roughly $60,000 yearly tuition – rightfully so — a cost that most people can’t pay up front or without aid. And yet when I think about it, the quarter million seems almost worth it.
I can’t really describe on paper what CMC has done for me, and I’m sure many people here feel the same way. I don’t know what I would be like if I had attended another school, as trippy and unanswerable a question as that may be to know. And while I appreciate the good times I’ve had, I also know that that’s not the most important thing this college, or the people I’ve met here, have given me. What has made CMC worth the price is less tangible- the confrontation of personal fears and uncertainties, the repeated questioning of who I am and what I am about, the opening of my eyes to the world and to the beauty within other people. It’s made me realize that no matter how you define “liberal arts,” I know, by looking at who I’ve become and the beautiful people those around me have become, that it works. And that’s really all that matters.
And while I may be going out into the world, the abyss, where all the old people reside, I actually feel OK about it. I’d even say I feel excited; prepared- and I’m not sure whether I would feel this way if I hadn’t attended CMC.
Just a few weeks ago, I had a meal with my advisor, Jonathan Petropoulos. I had the intention of interviewing him about a talk he had given at the Ath the night before. Petropoulos, a respected scholar in his field who has published multiple books on the subject of art looting in Nazi Germany, is also, not to mention, a great teacher of history.
As we continued to talk, though, our lunch meeting turned away from academia and into a conversation about our mutual love for alternative music. We talked about the time Petropoulos saw The Clash in their prime while on a semester abroad in London (my soon-to-be home). We talked about our admiration for Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of Wilco. The interview, I soon realized, was not really an interview; and Petropoulous was less a professor, a writer, or even a teacher, than he was a friend and mentor, relaying to me from the outside world that everything was going to be fine; that I was prepared; that it was time.
Joyously talking to my advisor about a mutual hobby was the realization that I could be 100% me, and that was neither dangerous nor weird; that I no longer needed the same supervision that parents or high school principals or college deans provide; that maybe, for the first time, I really had become an adult.
And if that’s the case – that I have finally reached the point of adulthood – then thank you, benefactor, for getting me to this point, because it doesn’t feel bad or burdensome like they always said it would. I actually feel realer, freer, and more youthful than I ever have.
Thank you for supplying me with the knowledge, experiences, and epiphanies that have made me who I am today. Thank you for teaching me to inhabit my body and mind in the way they ought to be. Thank you for helping me hone my beliefs, discover my passions, and for giving me the confidence and courage to not let go of them. Thank you for humbling me and for giving me the ability to seriously care about others. Thank you for reinforcing my belief that humor – the ability to be no bullsh*t funny – is not only a desirable trait, but an indispensable one. Thank you for preparing me for this moment, and for making me realize that this thing called life we start in less than 50 days is everything, and that we owe it to ourselves to jump into it with honesty and love, and to relentlessly be ourselves while we are a part of it.
Most importantly, thank you for this opportunity, for the ride; and for understanding that while it sucks for it to be over, all good things must end, and it is getting to be that time. Thank you for allowing me to meet all these amazing people who I am graduating with, and for being able to look forward to what they do and who they become from this point on. And thank you for instilling in me the foresight to understand that through all the highs and lows and meanderings and straight-up surprises that are to come, that everything, as long as we hold steady and continue to be willing to look ourselves in the mirror, will be K.
All the Best,
Jack Houghteling ’14