I mark today’s first day of classes with remarks our Academic Dean Beth Rushing made to the entering students last Friday. Catching my ear was an extended passage from Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Marriage Plot, a work that very cleverly steps beyond the traditional marriage plot. As Beth points out, however, it also has a good description of the exploration and experimentation that occur at college. Having taught college for over 35 years, I can say that Eugenides captures perfectly the kind of students he’s talking about.
Beth is a sociologist and always begins her convocation talk with an entertaining demographic breakdown of the entering class. (For example, “Emily” was the entering class’ our most common name.) This year she then moved on to fiction.
By Beth Rushing, V.P. for Academic Affairs, St. Mary’s College of MD
…One of the books I read this summer was Jeffrey Eugenedes’ The Marriage Plot. For part of this book, the main characters are students at Brown University. Here’s the passage that prompted me to reflect on my advice for new students:
Moss Runk (this was a girl) had arrived at Brown as an apple-cheeked member of the cross-country team. By junior year, she had repudiated the wearing of gender-specific clothing. Instead, she covered herself in shapeless garments that she had made herself out of hot-looking thick gray felt. What you did with a person like Moss Run, if you were Mitchell and Larry, was you pretended not to notice. When Moss came up to them in the Blue Room, moving in her hovercraft way owing to the long hem of her robe, you slid over so she could sit down. If someone asked what she was, exactly, you said “That’s Moss!” Despite her odd clothes, Moss Runk was still the same cheerful Idahoan she’d always been. Other people thought she was weird, but not Mitchell and Larry. Whatever had led to her drastic sartorial decision was something that Mitchell and Larry didn’t inquire about. Their silence registered solidarity with Moss against all the conventional people in their down vests and Adidas sneakers who were majoring in economics or engineering, spending the last period of total freedom in their lives doing nothing the least bit unordinary. Mitchell and Larry knew that Moss Runk wasn’t going to be able to wear her androgynous outfits forever. (Another nice thing about Moss was that she wanted to be a high school principal). There would come a day when, in order to get a job, Moss would have to hang up her gray felt and put on a skirt, or a business suit. Mitchell and Larry didn’t want to be around to see it.
You know, sometimes, we at St Mary’s want to celebrate our uniqueness – we sell bumper stickers to remind ourselves to keep St. Mary’s weird.
Your time at St. Mary’s allows you the time and space and brilliant, creative compatriots that will enable you to explore your unordinary selves. Take advantage of that opportunity.
College is a glorious time to explore the unordinary. But you don’t have to dress like Moss Runk to do this.
Take a class or join a club that stretches you beyond the previous boundaries of your lives. Make friends with people who look or talk or act in ways that are different from you. Go to a lecture or a film or a performance, even if you think you might be uncomfortable.
In short, take advantage of this time in your life to be unordinary, like Moss Runk.
But be unordinary in your own way. That’s the St. Mary’s Way.