An Unexpected Casualty of This Fall: The Unexpected

Claire Jeantheau '21, Staff Writer

My online classes have been smooth so far, and I know that they were the right choice for health and testing reasons. But nothing can beat the thought of being on Dickinson’s campus one day—pandemic mitigated; friends returned. The losses of missing that experience are many, and have been listed in institutional dispatches and group chats alike: clubs and activities as we know them; rapid-fire discussions in-person; equipment and laboratories that are hard to carry home; loping down to the diner or taqueria at midnight. 

Now, on this—what is it, fifth?—week of the semester, I’ve realized I’m missing something else, the main driver of some of those items above: spontaneity. 

Yes, surprise has gotten a bad rap this year; I’m sure we’ve had enough of its negative side in 2020 to last the rest of our lives. But I’m thinking of a more benevolent kind. Imagine campus as a chemical mixture. If everyone in our community is a particle, whizzing around its neighbors in myriad ways, something volatile might happen—certainly in this time where in-person meetings are filled with risks. But under non-corona circumstances, amazing things could—and often did. 

We bumped into people, caught sight of posters, just-so-happened to do the things that are special about a shared space. Sometimes, those things were pure fun, the kind you associate with college. I’m reminiscing about the freezing night in February when my friends and I, first-years, impulsively walked to CVS to rent The Shape Of Water on DVD—it was cheaper than streaming it online, you see. Others nudged our whole trajectories: the person you vented to in the Caf line who became your best friend; the professor whose class you took on a whim who became your mentor. 

I feel especially sorry for the first-years who won’t have the thrill of making random connections on Morgan Field or on Friday nights. These relationships can still spring up on Zoom—but when a call closes and the faces disappear after each meeting, you’re back in your workspace, alone. The timetable for college-based interactions, the closest thing to meeting in person, is constrained to brief windows, along with whatever conversation emerges on social media afterwards. 

What’s lost? The element of surprise. You don’t get to really live with diverse others, seeing them in their three-dimensional humanity, and all the unanticipated happenings that ensue. You can’t run into the quick wit from the back row of class doing laundry late at night, or have a revealing conversation about major choices with your new line partner for dining services. Randomized breakout rooms online mirror some of these experiences; at the same time, oh so many consecutive hours of video calls can make them feel monotonous. 

Yet I know there’s a contradiction here: I’m missing one kind of unpredictability in a time when I’m surrounded by it. I hope that in these words, you’re reminded of a moment of spontaneity from your time at Dickinson—or, for students beginning their experience, ones you want to have. But I hope also that we might seek out and treasure whatever surprises emerge right now that point towards something better.