I'm an art and history double major, and as I entered my sophomore year, I realized that I hadn't taken many classes in either. I told myself that I was going to make my requirements a priority, take classes I needed to, and expedite the process. No extra classes, no outstanding interests.
It didn't work out that way.
Last year, my friends took a class called "Narrative Non Fiction" with Professor Blanche Boyd; it's a creative writing class. Although I've been writing since middle school, I'd never taken an English class at Conn. I really couldn't envision myself writing stories; primarily because I'd seen some friends in high school do a much better job than me and I was scared. Plus, I kept telling myself, writing wasn't sustainable for me. Ironic, since I'm an art major, but we all delude ourselves sometimes. Through some weird twist of fate, however, the class I was planning to take filled up before I registered, and it was in the exact time slot as Blanche's short story writing class. I scrambled to send her an email, since a writing sample is a requirement for this class. A day before pre-registration, I got the email that I'd been accepted into the short-story writing class.
I had no idea what I was signing up for.
The class is more of a conference, with a lot of writing, critique and support. It's a very organic way of learning, where your brain begins to comprehend it's own problems. In many ways, it's more challenging than being told what to do, or what you're doing wrong. You have to realize it yourself. Blanche is always there to help you, and will nudge you, but she herself claims that you can't learn writing through someone else's efforts. It's different from information being disseminated, it comes from within. That's hard to confront, but it's so, so rewarding.
The one event we had to attend on the very minimal syllabus was the Klagsbrun symposium, which is an event Blanche has been organizing for a while. We've had great writers come to campus as part of the symposium, from Jhumpa Lahiri to Michael Cunningham, and Art Spiegelman to David Sedaris. This year, we got an extra; we had two writers join us. Conn alumna and professor Jessica Soffer '07 and her writing mentor, Colum McCann, spoke about their work and we had dinner together. Afterward, there was still half the symposium left, and I was sitting on a bus with my friends on my way to watch the premiere of Mockingjay Part 1.
I couldn't go. I thrust my ticket into my friend's hand, walked off the bus and went back into the symposium.
Colum McCann reads like a god. His reading is theatrical, interspersed with slight Irish brogue, emotions coming through like waves as he stresses and de-stresses some words, changing their meaning. One of the excerpts he read was a piece about a dancer in the '80s, and he wrote 40 pages without a full stop. Seeing that made my brain explode. Here we were, not knowing how to write with given structure, and this man sat casually on a stool, decimating every rule with absolute panache. Soffer's reading was more subdued; her clear, quiet intonation reflecting the tightness of her sentences, the sheer structure of her words. Everything counted. Emotions resonated from the words themselves, as she read everything at the same pace. In it's own way, it was as immersive as McCann's.
I left the symposium with nothing; no signed books, no selfies, no ticket stub, no name tag. But in my mind, a tiny dent was filled with possibilities, with ideas and with futures. I wrote well into midnight that night, and signed up for Blanche's non-fiction class the next day.
Have you ever walked into a classroom expecting to take a quiz, only to realize that your quiz has been replaced by a naked middle-aged man?
Me neither. Well, not until a few days ago.
What does this mean? It was figure drawing week in my two-dimensional art class! This came as quite the surprise, since we had totally different plans for that class.
It only took a few seconds for faces to light up in shock as my classmates started walking into the classroom. Our professor, however, was, appropriately, very nonchalant about the whole thing, particularly since she has more experience with figure drawing. I won't lie, it was pretty uncomfortable at first. I was not alone; there were many glances of discomfort exchanged around the room. Once in the drawing process, though, we became more accustomed to the situation. In order to draw something, you have to visually break up the form into shapes. Instead of drawing a figure, it was more like we were drawing shapes that happened to connect into a figure. That helped lessen the awkward tension in the room.
Despite the initial unease, one has to appreciate the opportunity to be able to draw nude models. In high school, we did figure drawing, but we used clothed models. This can highly distort the perception of human anatomy. That's an unfortunate reality for artists, since proportions are so important. Working with nude models is also helpful for creating shading and forms, because the model is, of course, three-dimensional. If you use something two-dimensional, like a photograph, you'll never develop the skills to be able to transform a 3D form onto your 2D paper. It was helpful to have the model in the classroom, and our progress was very quick and very noticable.
One word of advice I'll give you from this experience: avoid eye contact with the nude model at all costs, because if you're not careful, it will happen and you will feel awkward about it.
I have never been particularly excited for the end of a semester, nor have I looked forward to finals — big exams that bring together all that you've learned aren't very enjoyable.
What if that exam was in the form of a paper? And what if that paper gave you the freedom to explore something new? In my history class, I have been given an amazing opportunity to choose: I could elaborate on some of the themes discussed in class or I could find something new in the vast array of human history and write about that. How often does a student get the freedom to find something they are passionate about in a field of study and write about it?
My choice has been exciting. In the context of Big History, the course I am taking, I will be researching the influence of African nations, empires and ideals in what has become a Eurocentric world. Simply, I get to take a closer look at how human history has developed from the perspective of those whose history isn't told. From the moment I told my professor, Fred Paxton, about my idea, he has been extraordinarily supportive of my process and progress. As I share my findings and discuss my plan, he shares potential resources and helps me keep the paper grounded, connected to a few central themes.
Research projects are far more exciting when when your professor encourages you to test the limits of what you have learned, and maybe even reinvent these concepts. Using everything from documentaries to articles and books, I have a final project that I am excited for, a project that lets me use the skills I have developed to do something creative.
And if you're curious about the course, Big History is an emerging field that covers history from the Big Bang to the modern day and beyond. See bighistoryproject.com
Joe Standart is one those success stories: a self-taught photographer who pursued his dream of taking photos and made it big. While I’ve never aspired to be a professional photographer — it’s just a fun hobby for me — it was still wonderful to hear about the steps he took to become one. Standart came to campus to speak about his project, “Portrait of America,” and portraits of our very own New London. Beginning in 2004, he pulled individuals off the street as they were and took elegant portraits of them. Photographing his subjects from all walks of life in the same studio setting served as an equalizer. Their profession or income was of no matter; each person was photographed the same way. The description of the project explains, “The Portrait exhibitions hold a mirror up to a community to reveal what's already there — the inherent dignity and promise of its people.” The exhibition was not held in a museum, but rather the streets of New London. Large portraits were hung on the sides of buildings and in windows, thus providing a “mirror” for the community. Looking through his photos, I see New London in a new way. I get a glimpse into the lives of its residents.
A week ago, I went to work at 9 a.m. in Ruane's Den, a coffee shop located in Harkness, one of the College's residence halls. I work the opening shift on Mondays and after a long, tiring Sunday filled with homework, I wanted nothing more than to escape into the warmth of the coffee shop and make myself a chai latte.
Turns out, I didn't have to. As I walked up the steps to the patio of Harkness, I encountered a strange sight: two open boxes of Dunkin' Donuts and a large box of coffee on a table. A student was sitting in one of the chairs and a slightly older man was sitting in another. They were chatting and laughing, but the scene looked strange still; why would two people need 20 donuts? I then saw random people coming by, conversing with the older man, grabbing a coffee or a donut, and leaving for class. I had to investigate.
The housefellow of Harkness — each residence hall has a "housefellow," a student in charge of the house — had decided to throw a surprise breakfast for the dorm custodian. With the help of the Office of Residential Education and Living (REAL), she'd gone down to Dunkin' early in the morning and brought donuts for all her residents, and she'd asked the custodian to take a few minutes off and just relax with the students. As sappy as it is, I couldn't help but feel a warmth inside me; I didn't even care that people would skip my coffee shop to get free coffee from the table — the custodian looked so happy!
Last year, another student at Conn filmed a short video asking students if they knew their dorm custodians, and quite a few did. I remember leaving notes outside the door of my first-year custodian, and I remember friends going out of their way to clear rubbish just so there would be less work for our friendly, resident custodian. Sometimes, simple acts of caring can really make a difference.
I sipped my coffee and was 10 minutes late to work. My manager didn't care.
I've enjoyed ice skating ever since my friend invited me to the neighborhood rink in middle school. We had to go with her mom, and I almost died at least 20 times, but it was fun. By the end of middle school, I was taking figure skating lessons. I towered over the other, younger skaters, most of whom only came up to my knee. Surprisingly, I moved up in the skating world faster than my small, youthful friends. Once I finished the basic skating levels, and a few figure skating classes, I quit.
I haven't skated much since, so I was excited when I found out that Conn has an ice rink. Many of the schools my friends attend don't have rinks on campus. On a recent Friday, I went to my first open skate here. It was only $1 to skate for 3 hours, and all profits went to the College's Relay For Life chapter.
I was eager to skate again, but a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to do the things I used to be able to do. Most of my friends were having trouble just staying upright, though, so there wasn't much pressure. After I got accustomed to the ice again, I started trying to do some of my old tricks. Some were rough, but others went pretty well.
I was in the middle of the rink practicing when someone skated up to me and asked if I was in the figure skating club. I said that I wasn't, and she told me that I should be, and that she could give me more details if I wanted them. I haven't agreed to anything yet, but I'm definitely considering joining. I really miss ice skating regularly, and it was flattering to be spotted as a possible member. I've already signed up for the email list, and we will see where things go from there.
I think the highlight of my night was when my friend Brion joked that he wasn't impressed by my tricks, and then, seconds later, face-planted on the ice. If he had gotten hurt, I wouldn't be able to note it as the highlight of my night, but he's fine, so I can tell you that it was HILARIOUS.
One of the things I absolutely love about Conn is the sheer disregard for class year by the student body. Let me explain; I was a first-year student last year, and by the end of my second semester, most of my friends were seniors. Frankly, I don't quite know how this happened, but it did. While I was attending their graduation, it occured to me that I'd be losing a lot of my friends.
Well, I didn't. Two of my best friends from last year are still around; one in Boston, the other in Waterford — one town away from New London. As I couldn't go back home this holiday (I'm from Pakistan; home is 8,000 miles away) and I've never really celebrated Thanksgiving before, one of these friends, Evelyn, invited me to her house. I drove there with another alum, Ben, and we were all seated around her table by 4 p.m.
Evelyn, like most people on Thanksgiving, had extended family over, and I got to meet some really amazing people. One of the perks of the night was us setting up a kids' table for those who were under 25; it was a riot. Amongst the amazing food (seriously, we don't have turkey back home and I think it ought to be a trend at this point; it was so good!), reconnecting with people I don't get to see as much, and laughing uproarously most of the time, I didn't at all feel the absence of my own family.
With final exams only a few days away, Conn students are busy scouring research materials for projects and papers. (It will be open when we return from Spring Break!), so we aren't able to browse the stacks like usual, but all the library's books and resources are still available. I went behind-the-scenes and into the construction zone with library staff to see how our book requests move from Shain to the temporary circulation desk each night.
The weather has been absolutely gorgeous this semester. Right at the end of November, the weather was still lovely. Friends and I have even been studying outside without coats to soak up the last of these sunny days before snow. Polar vortex this week? Nah, I'd rather it stayed in the mid-50s.
Occasionally, The ConnCollegeLive Experience will invite guests to blog about their experiences as Camels. Today, Chelsea Preston '16 contributes to the guest blogger series. Chelsea was a member of the 2014 Connecticut College women's soccer team, which won the College's first NESCAC Championship and played in the NCAA Division III tournament. We asked Chelsea to capture, firsthand, what it was like to head into the national tournament.
Friday, Nov. 14, 2014
We boarded the bus at 1 p.m. after being sent off by a group of students and fans, including President Bergeron, at the entrance to the Athletic Center. After a three-hour trip, we arrived at Montclair State University to practice on the turf field where we'd play our game on Saturday and, hopefully, again on Sunday. We only had an hour to practice before the next team would need the turf, so we quickly went through our typical drills. The energy was high. We were playing music and were just happy to be there, in the national tournament. After practice, we headed back to the hotel, watched some film on Swarthmore — the team we would play the next day — and headed to bed.
Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014
In the morning, the team boarded the bus to go to teammate Leah Salituro’s house for breakfast. Her house is only 30 minutes from where we were playing, so we had a great team breakfast there. On away games, Coach Riker likes us to take a walk to clear our heads for the upcoming game, so we walked around the neighborhood before going back to the hotel. We had some downtime to catch up on homework, then it was time to leave for the game. We arrived at Montclair's athletic center and started to prepare for the game. We played our usual music to get us pumped up and we were ready to go. We were excited, but nervous to play a team we had never seen before. It was a new challenge we were ready to face.
Game: Conn College vs. Swarthmore
The game, the first round of the NCAA tournament, was exciting as we pulled ahead with a set-piece goal from my teammate Becca Raymond. Swarthmore came back and tied it with a goal. In the second half, we got another goal from Livi Block and, to finish it off with a minute left, Mitchy Medina scored to make the final 3-1. We were so excited to have made it through that game and to be able to play on Sunday. It seemed like a never-ending season.
Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014
We woke up, had team breakfast, and hung out at the hotel until we left for our game. Two games in two days is never easy, especially when you are playing teams you have never seen before. We gathered up all our energy in the locker room like we had the day before and were ready to play. This day was different because we weren’t as nervous as we had been on Saturday.
Game: Conn College vs. Montclair State
Montclair put up a fight, and so did we. It was a tough game and we made it through regulation time without a score. It seemed as though we were going to make it all the way to penalty kicks with 50 seconds left in overtime. Unfortunately, Montclair got a shot off that ended up in the back of the net. Our season was over.
The historic, long, exciting season we had worked so hard for was over, in mid-November. Not many teams can say that. We are so proud of our season, for being NESCAC championss and for having made it as far as we did. We went from the bottom of our league to No. 1 in one season and won our first NCAA tournament game. This season was certainly one for the books!
Chelsea Preston '16 is an art major and a forward on the 2014 women's soccer team.