Since my sophomore year here, I’ve worked as a tour guide, and in my time roaming around campus with prospective students, I’ve received a lot of interesting questions. But recently, one from a rather persistent mom has stuck in my brain the last few weeks.
“Why did you stay at CWRU?”
It’s easy for anyone to name the reasons why they chose a school. For me, it’s definitely not difficult to name what factors led me here. I wanted to keep living in a city, the school had to be somewhat prestigious in case I decided to go to grad school and it couldn’t be too big.
I made the trek across the northeast and saw all the small liberal-arts colleges it had to offer. Everyone I know told me to look in that direction, especially as my interests drifted away from chemistry and into the social sciences. But none of them felt right. There was always “something” that kept me away, and almost every time, it involved the people.
At Swarthmore, the student panel was so pretentious we almost left early. At Allegheny, there was just nothing to do. At Wooster, the eagerness went from being endearing to off-putting. I hate to use a cliche, but I really just couldn’t “see myself” at those places.
Eventually, I realized I was looking in the wrong places, which is how I ended up looking at Case Western Reserve University. It just so happened to tick all the technical boxes, and it certainly helped that my introductory experiences, like my tour and early emails with professors, were overwhelmingly positive.
But none of this answers the question at the heart of this piece: why did I stay?
I would be lying if I said I never doubted my decision after showing up here. There was a brief, fleeting moment my freshman year where I seriously considered if I would be better off somewhere else. It’s difficult to say why I felt that way, but I think it’s honestly just part of the adjustment process. When it sinks in that you’ve made a four-year commitment, it’s easy to panic.
What ultimately kept me here—and what I highlight most frequently on my tours—is the people. Going back to my earliest impressions of campus, something always just clicked with me about the social environment. Maybe it’s because it leans nerdy—which I also do, for better or for worse—or maybe it’s because it’s generally unpretentious. I don’t think there is a way to uniformly characterize CWRU students.
So maybe that’s actually what made the community so appealing. I never felt like I was boxed into a certain personality or attitude. When I found my group freshman year, we all had fairly different high school experiences and interests. But we meshed really well, and rapidly became inseparable.
A similar thing happened for me with The Observer. I started as a columnist, writing a number of articles that I don’t think I can ever re-read. Going back and looking at my first one is especially tough, because I can tell just how unsure of myself I still was. This was something The Observer helped me grow past. When I began working as opinion editor, I finally learned a lesson I had been ducking for far too long: you can’t please everyone.
Aside from being instrumental in my development as a writer and editor, though, this lesson was crucial to my growth as a person. I think there’s a pressure everyone experiences when they enter college to try and be friends with everyone. For me, I definitely felt that. I was worried that if I didn’t broaden my social horizons enough, I would somehow miss out on some important part of my college experience. In hindsight, this was ridiculous. But I wouldn’t have figured that out without the weekly production nights here, which ran late and were simultaneously the most and least unenjoyable experience I’ve had since going to CWRU.
It was those nights that helped me to realize that your real friends are the people you don’t have to put effort into getting along with. I know that may sound like an obvious conclusion, but it really isn’t, it’s genuinely ridiculous how many people I know who will go out of their way to hang out with people who just emotionally exhaust them.
It took me until about halfway through my sophomore year to recognize that fatigue from people is not something to shrug off. Now, this didn’t lead to me cutting off any person who I wasn’t besties with or anything like that. It did, however, make me extremely appreciative of my fellow editorial board members, who went from being other kids in my student group to some of the best and most important people I’ll ever meet.
Reflecting on all this now, it makes me realize just how much I’ll miss “my people” when I leave here. Something I’ve started to tell prospective students is that all my favorite college memories are, on the surface, pretty mundane. Yet it’s these unexciting moments that I will probably recall best 10 to 20 years from now.
I’ll definitely remember the nights where my roommates and I would make three bags of microwave popcorn and watch Frasier or Buzzfeed Unsolved for hours. I’ll probably wax nostalgic about the nights where we wandered around campus, throwing rocks into the Wade Lagoon and skating on the Case Quad. I will more than likely continue to tell stories of when my friends and I made inappropriate art in the snow on DiSanto Field, or when we turned our suite into a pitch-black maze for our roommate while he was in the bathroom.
Maybe, on especially boring days, my mind will drift to sitting on the porch outside Guilford Hall, reading before class and exchanging waves with the friends and professors who passed me by.
They’re not significant events by any stretch of the imagination, and there’s probably a bunch more that I can’t think of right now, but will later. What matters, though, is that they’re proof of just how at home I was here, and just how easy it was for me to exist.
“Fun” is a relative term, and to me it encapsulates the moments where you never once question if you’re where you should be. It’s a situational feeling that relies so much on the people you’re with, and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by good ones. The friends I made here I wouldn’t have made anywhere else, and that for me is enough proof I made the right decision in staying here.
So when I finally put together my answer for that persistent mom, my answer was actually pretty simple to articulate:
“I always had fun, no matter where I was on campus.”
I came to CWRU because I thought I might fit in. I stayed because, as it turned out, I was right.