Community and Friendship


The world is Claymation this winter and nobody knows how. Abed Nadir simply wakes up in a world that is dramatically changed; all his friends are shaped out of moldable putty in a fantastical, stop-motion-animated universe. His friends, naturally, are extremely concerned; Jeff rolls his eyes in exasperation, yes, but the entire gang is generally worried for Abed’s emotional state and determined to ensure his stability.

What follows is a dramatic quest to the North Pole, led by psychology professor and self-professed Christmas Wizard Ian Duncan, initiated by Abed’s friends to help him find the meaning of Christmas. The journey through Abed’s delusional mind is rife with dangers: the collapsing (and not-so-subtly named) Cave of Frozen Memories claims Britta, the swarm of Humbugs flock to Jeff’s sarcasm and eat him alive, and a Christmas Pterodactyl flies off with Shirley and her holier-than-thou attitude about religion and Christmas. And yet, the group sticks with Abed through thick and thin. No one really knows why Abed is so convinced that the world is really Claymation, but they endure his stubborn delusion out of compassion and concern. When, in the middle of the journey, Abed asks his friends to only accompany him further if they truly care about him, the message is clear; true friendship is the only thing that can carry one through trying times.

Coming to Amherst was a big deal; leaving behind the town I’ve lived in for 17 years, leaving all my friends, my family, my home with all its familiarities and comfort. It’s an adjustment that takes a lot of time and support. The first time you drop your tray in Val (last Saturday morning) and you feel like you want to disappear. The mornings when you wake up after getting far too little sleep and you dread the coming slate of classes. The awkward fifth time of asking someone’s name and then still getting it wrong the next day. These are all experiences that, when combined, make a new freshman feel as poorly adjusted and graceless as Abed, the Asperger-suffering student at Greendale Community College in Community.

CEOT, the Orientation trip that I and many other freshmen embarked on, was filled with fantastic bonding experiences, but one instance stands out in my mind. Each of the approximately 20 freshmen in my group wrote on a slip of paper their biggest fear at Amherst. Afterwards, the slips were collected and then randomly distributed and read aloud by their new holders. Nearly every slip of paper focused on the fear that the writer would not find any “true” friends here. Also of note was the theme of concerns that we would make many acquaintances, but no one who genuinely cared.

What is it about Amherst that breeds this fear? The school touts its tight-knit community and the intimate liberal arts college setting. Why are incoming freshmen so concerned that they will be excluded? True, this could be a common fear at all institutions, but the sheer proportion of students who named it as their biggest fear warrants our attention and concern. Orientation programming was filled with upperclassmen giving advice on using time wisely: talk to as many people as you can and get to know everyone, because after orientation, people close off socially.

The climax of the episode of Community, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” occurs when Abed reveals to his friends that though his parents are divorced, his mother comes to visit him every year on December 9. It just so happens that the day of the Claymation delusion was also December 9, and Abed’s mother didn’t come to visit this year. How do you cope with leaving behind the people you care about the most? You have to lean on people who care about you just as much.

Doing this at Amherst is hard. The list of ways to meet new people after Orientation essentially consists of the Socials, classes, and clubs. Our drinking culture feeds the building of short, shallow relationships rather than deeply connected friendships of mutual support and understanding. Athletics provide a social outlet, but its one that is sometimes necessarily exclusive to team members. Sub-free housing divides the student body from the moment we move into our freshman dorms, effectively eliminating a demographic from our social circles.

Community is about a group of misfits who meet each other by chance and become best friends despite tremendous odds. The fact of the matter is, whether you’re Abed Nadir struggling with a familial split or a college freshman adapting to a new life, it’s just you against reality, and reality always wins. I’m three weeks in, and maybe I’m the one with social insecurity, but the social outlets on campus leave me wanting my own Christmas Wizard.