Some Retrospection

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My parents invited some people over for dinner yesterday, and I found myself talking to a girl who was a junior in high school. The conversation leaned towards colleges – which schools would be good, what kind of schools to look for, etc – and as I was talking to her about which colleges I applied to, I started thinking about what made them stand out for me when I was in her place.

I realized that I definitely applied to a lot of colleges, because they had beautiful campuses and good academics. The campuses were really pretty. I thought about how college brochures always tried to entice you by projecting this vision that you would be sitting among a group of ethically-diverse friends sitting underneath a splendid display of fall foliage. It was all so picturesque.

I remember visiting RISD and thinking “This place doesn’t have a real campus. I don’t know.”

Then in the spring, the acceptance letters came. I recall being extremely excited about getting one from Middlebury College. I had worked hard on the essays for that school and wanted to take International Studies there. I visited both Middlebury and RISD again, and again I kept thinking about landscapes – about the view of the Vermont mountains from the top of the Middlebury library. I was trying to convince myself that the mountains would make the experience worthwhile. And If I didn’t love art and design, I would have absolutely gone.

But I did, and I’m glad I decided over the subject matter rather than the campus, because four years have passed, and I see how little a beautiful campus has to do with the advancement of your skills and knowledge.

Sure, it’s nice to be surrounded by perfectly tamed lawns and shiny buildings, but it’s not everything. So many colleges try to glorify their environment, you’d think that’s all we’d go for. It almost makes you forget about what’s going on inside the campus.

When my parents visited my school for the first time during parents’ weekend, my mom mistook an office building on South Main Street for the industrial design building. It’s because RISD isn’t pretty. RISD is messy and chaotic and utterly beautiful on the inside because of it.

A campus won’t tell you about a school’s academics, instructors or the tenacity and enthusiasm of its students. You have to understand the people, the process, the day-to-day ongoings of a school to really get it. RISD allows me to break things, hack things, make things better. You can’t do that in a pristine environment. You wouldn’t want to. It’s people are dedicated and passionate about their work. They are the creatives who strive every day to break boundary and not hold still. It’s not always picturesque, but I love it all the same. I’m glad I saw past the lack of campus to what the school I go to really is, because it’s made me see the world differently.

I really hope that when future college-goers see the campus, they also ponder the inner-workings of the school and how that school will make their lives richer. If you removed the scenery and the statues, is it still the same?

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