Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Carleton Crowd

The community of Carleton alums is not one I think will ever be least not in the other communities I will run across in my life. It's a global community of old friends that doesn't make distinctions between whether or not we were at Carleton at the same time. We all have a common bond of having experienced the world that is Carleton. The humbling experience that shows us who we really are...only Carleton style. I do believe that that last phrase "Carleton style" is about the hardest thing in the world to describe to people who don't know what it means. All of my Carleton pals know instantly to what I refer, and they go away thinking to themselves, "Yeah, I don't know how to describe that either..."

I went to a barbecue last night with a bunch of Carleton alums from my year (turns out there is a huge pocket of us in the Boston area...who knew?) and I had a blast!!! Catching up with people I hadn't seen in over 2 years, meeting people again who I recognized as a person I went to Carleton with, but didn't really know all that well while we were there. It was great! The kinds of conversations I can have with these people are on such a different level than conversations I have with other people I know in Boston because we can skip past the "initial conversation" talk...the "who are you, what do you do, why do you do it" sort of small talk, the guarded "I don't know how much of myself I can tell you since I just met you and I don't want you to judge me" talk that you have with people you don't know very well. The conversations I had last night were intellectually stimulating, always very familiar, and very candid and honest and open because, hey, they're Carleton people. I already know, on some levels, how they will react to me and how I should react to them...which is to say, I can trust that they won't judge me based on what I do or think or say because I know they will respect my differences and be interested in how we differ. It was such a good feeling to be among a group of people that I already felt so familiar with, even if I didn't really know them all that well from school. And nowhere else will I ever truly have that feeling of familiarity and safety in a group of people that I don't consider my "close friends." Nowhere else could I talk about personal experiences...ex-boyfriends, regrets, mistakes I've made, etc...with people that I haven't seen in years. There's just something about the Carleton bond that allows us to do that.

Granted, I can't do that with all alums...when we get out of the realm of our own class year, we tend to be a little more shy about personal conversation. But still, there's a sense of familiarity there. I went to an Admissions function for prospective students today out in Burlington, and hopped a ride home with an alum about 5 years my elder. He and I had such interesting conversations on the way home. He and I have met a couple of times, maybe, so we don't really have a lot of history of that "I just met you" type of conversation. But that doesn't matter...we're both Carleton people. So on some level, we already had that "initial conversation" without really having it. I think that that's truly spectacular.

As I read through this again, I realize that I haven't explained this well at all. I feel like I've tried and haven't come close to what I mean. But, see, that goes back to what I said in the beginning. There's just something about Carleton. Something that I can't explain, but something that every Carleton person (student or alum) already understands. That's the essence of why I enjoyed myself so much last night at the barbecue. I felt understood on a level that I don't always feel with other people...or if I do feel that, it's because I've known that person a looooooong time.

I wonder if this all makes me seem elitist and exclusive about my school and the people I enjoy hanging out with. I hope it doesn't. It's not that I can't fully enjoy someone's company unless they're from Carleton. It's not that I think their company is less worthy than the company of a Carl. If I was that elitist, I couldn't define myself truly as a "Carleton person." But everyone knows that feeling of being totally understood at the most basic level, right? The interactions you can have with people who understand you in that way are just...well, different. You never have to feel on the defensive about yourself. I very much hope everyone has a community like that somewhere...a group of people with whom they feel safe, with whom they don't feel judged, with whom they feel they truly belong just as they are. It's so important to have that...because life throws you curve balls when you don't expect them, life becomes a tangled web of appointments and responsibilities and demands on your time. It's nice to know that there are people with which you can shed all of that craziness and just be. Be yourself. Be content. Be happy. Be understood.

For me, I know I always have a community that allows me to just be Carleton-bred. And that makes me smile.

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