Sewanee Students: an appreciation


(Team Sewanee Conglomerate, trying to stay warm. 2012 MS 150.)

Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reprinted by permission.

University Avenue is already quieter this week. There’s no sound from the three fraternity houses within hearing distance of the back porch, and fewer students are strolling down the hill to Julia’s or the Blue Chair.

Soon Jack and I won’t see as many runners out on the fire lanes and trails. There will be a notable lessening of energy, even when the summer programs are in full swing.

Overlaid on the rhythms of the seasons are the rhythms of a college town. This spring I’m feeling appreciative of all that Sewanee students bring to this little place we share between August and May every year.

I’ve had the good fortune to join John Benson and a group of student cyclists riding in the MS 150, an event outside of Nashville which raises money for multiple sclerosis research. Four times I’ve spent a weekend riding in vans, sharing meals, camping out, and riding for two days in all sorts of weather with a couple of dozen Sewanee undergraduates.

It’s always a highlight of my year. Their energy is contagious, their sense of fun infectious. They accept me into the group and share stories and snacks like they’ve known me for years.

Every year there are students who show up having done almost no training. They suffer mightily but typically make it all 150 miles to the finish. It’s a great lesson for me: you don’t always have to train, prepare and plan in order to achieve something; sometimes you just have to go in blind and wallow in the experience.

To hear their plans for the future is to be inspired in a different way. Whether they’re considering graduate school or working for a nonprofit, traveling or a fellowship, their sense of possibility is so beneficial it should be bottled and dispensed.

Are college students sometimes a bit annoying? Of course. They can be heedless and self-absorbed. They leave bikes strewn all over campus in the rain. They drive too fast in front of my house. But every time I feel judgmental I think of my own undergraduate experience – all five years and three summers of it – and I quickly lose my indignation.  

One of my heroes, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, said in an interview that he always tries to be the oldest one in the room. I understand what he means.

Whether they’re climbers or cyclists, scientists or choir members, the students I’ve met have been a source of motivation for me to learn more, achieve more, shoot for more in my own pursuits. They’re a cure for pessimism, cynicism, and complacency. Plus, they’re fun to be around.

So this is my tribute to the students of Sewanee, particularly the departing seniors. It’s been fun sharing the Mountain with you. Thanks, and best of luck.