Looking Back, Moving Forward

As another year at Amherst gets underway, the differences from the previous school year become more and more apparent. We notice the new haircut of a classmate or the worldly experiences the study abroad students have gained. The routine of asking what you did over the summer or about class schedules floods back. Our relationships are forced to adjust to the change as well. What seemed so second nature last semester seems to differ from that, reality this semester.

Perhaps the most difficult thing is finding the precise language with which to describe the way we feel about coming back. For those of us who are returning to school for our second or third time, it feels as if we should have at least some mastery over the Amherst experience. It is surprising when we notice the ways in which we are still always new to this place. The differences or unfamiliarities can be subtle. In the grand scheme of things, the campus appears the same: the construction, the Quad, Frost Library. But any place is always new and different, if only in the fact that we are encountering it in a new and different time. Experience will always exceed our language.

Living in the shadow of the previous semester is easy. Many upperclassmen somehow have strong feelings about the new smoothie bar or panini presser. It’s hard for our minds to rewire to the new people and new circumstances that structure our lives. We may walk past those people who once sparked our lives with color with a perfunctory wave while passing by in Merrill.

Sparkling new school supplies and syllabi distract us from acknowledging the fear and sadness that come with starting over. A clean slate also means it’s empty. Devoid of the schedule we carefully curated or the map of where to go, we are endlessly saying goodbye to our previous lives as we welcome the new. However, wallowing in these concerns may hinder the sight of overflowing possibilities available.

The start of the school year is only one of many start-overs we face a year. The blank page or awkward greeting contradicts the supposed progress we’ve made since our first year.

Here we are, at the verge of a new experience, one maybe completely different than previous ones — especially for first-years. A fear and excitement lies in the imperfect nature of Amherst and our own imperfect natures. Missteps and mistakes will be inherent and necessary. Trust in yourself and your decisions, but learn to say sorry and change when needed. Our times with each other and at Amherst are temporary. The bittersweet nature of starting another cycle of a school year at Amherst only happens a couple times — so embrace it.