Sitting today at my most-often-visited table in Valentine’s front room, I took a few minutes to look around the room at the variety of people sharing the space. There were people like me, sitting alone and working, there were people sitting with one friend, and there were tables crammed so full that some students had to pull chairs up to the ends and hold their trays uncomfortably on their laps. Amherst has this reputation as awkward, a position I certainly endorse at times. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s quite as awkward as we make it out to be. A Gallup Poll in 2004 showed that the majority of Americans have between two and nine close friends. When I think about the people apart from my relatives with whom I am comfortable sharing my close thoughts with, this seems about right. With a quick count, I can think of four or five – right in the middle of the average. And I am not at all displeased by this – in fact, any more than that would feel overwhelming. I don’t need to share the intimate details of my life and my thoughts with very many people. Hell, for a little while, I can get by just keeping things to myself. But even one friend is enough to help me when I feel in need of a kind ear or a voice to break the silence.
What happens at Amherst, I think, is that the school is so small and offers us such great opportunities to meet so many people that we begin to confuse and blur the line between friends and acquaintances. If I meet you at a party and we (drunkenly) talk over loud music about where we live and what we’ve been doing, that is wonderful. I love to get to know people. Next morning if I see you at Valentine, maybe I’ll say hello and ask you how the rest of your evening went. But in a few days, when I’m back to working and worrying about school, I probably won’t be stopping to talk to you. That doesn’t make me awkward – it makes us acquaintances. A Chinese proverb that I unabashedly stole from the Internet tells me “One’s acquaintances may fill the world, but one’s true friends can be but few”. Amherst College, when I’m here, is my world – and practically the entire student body, now that I’m a senior, is an acquaintance. I see pictures of people and recall them from a party or a presentation or a class. But I couldn’t say much more about them.
I’m very happy with my friends here at Amherst. And I’m very happy that the school is small enough that I can make so many acquaintances. I can hang out with any number of friends and acquaintances and new people are always just around the corner. I can’t wait for the year to continue so I can meet more of you and make some new friends and acquaintances – in fact, I already have! Amherst is awkward, in a lovable way, but it’s also a wonderful melting pot of people and interests and I feel so privileged to be a part of this wonderful student body.