After some debate, I'd decided not to rent a car. Instead I just took a shuttle from the airport into town. I never drove a car all 4 years at Amherst; I wouldn't really know how to get anywhere! Besides, everything I wanted to see is in walking distance once you're there. As I sat in the van, driving closer to the town, things started to look familiar, and I started to remember what landmarks we would pass even before we passed them.
I checked in, and found that they placed me in the same dorm I spent my last 2 years in. Kinda weird, that. A little disappointing; I'd hoped to be somewhere new. Dropped off my stuff, went for a walk.
As I wandered around the campus, it felt amazingly familiar. Even though it's been 10 years, I'd walked those paths and seen those buildings so many times, it was all a part of me. My feet and my eyes knew precisely where they were. The names of old haunts were harder to remember, but they started coming back to me as I walked past them. Funny, because before I came, I'd been trying to remember the campus and I'd been failing. But once I started walking around, I remembered everything.
After giving myself a tour of the campus, I walked into town. It was great seeing everything again. At one point I felt a bit hungry/thirsty, and I knew without a doubt that there would be a place that would remedy that, and I knew where it was. It wasn't until I arrived that I remembered it was an ice cream shop called Bart's.
Walking back to campus after a long walk, I passed the house which was my class's "headquarters". I grew nervous again. I'm not good at approaching near-strangers! I saw a few slightly familiar faces, as some classmates were outside chatting. It was nobody I knew well though. Exploring alone had been relaxing and fun, but I couldn't be social just yet. Struck by shyness and fear, I didn't approach. Instead I walked back to my dorm. I changed into lighter clothes, planning to make myself go out again and enjoy the sun, maybe try to hook up with some people. Instead I found myself crawling into bed and napping for two hours, hiding in my little room.
When I got up, it was time for the friday-night pizza dinner. Nervously I approached, and all of my fears were realized: I didn't recognize anybody. None of the people I'd spent my time with were there. People were standing in small clusters talking, and I didn't see anybody I felt comfortable approaching. I felt awful and awkward and alone. I wasn't hungry. I thought about turning around, I wanted to go right back to that dorm room, but instead I made myself get a drink. Then I bravely chatted for a few minutes with a guy I didn't know. He was perfectly friendly and not the least bit scary. Emboldened by this, I picked up a slice of pizza and ventured into the table areas. I scanned faces, hoping for somebody to sit with. Then I saw her, Susan, a math major I'd been friends with! Someone I recognized! Such relief. I sat across from her, and she was surprised and happy to see me, once she recognized me.
Things were much easier once I'd established that first link, found at least one person I could talk to and hang out with. The rest of the weekend went pretty well. I connected with a few other people as the evening progressed. First N came over, and it was so great to see him and meet his partner! I grew more courageous, and I talked to a bunch of friendly people I didn't really know. Late on that evening my old roomie, SM, arrived with her boyfriend. I was thrilled to see her again.
However, before SM arrived, Susan and I went to an alumni Comedy Cabaret at the music building. That was fun. One of my own classmates, Evan, did a really neat comedy piece. It involved him talking to a television. One the TV was a video recording of himself. He'd written a whole complex conversational skit, and he played both roles - one recorded, one live. It was an unusual approach, but very entertaining!
I even was drawn into the act at one point. One the screen was "his psychiatrist", who was berating Evan about his show. "You probably have a crush on one of the members of the audience right now, don't you?", asked the screen. Evan said he did, so the video insisted he approach the crush and introduce himself. I was sitting in the middle of a row, in the middle of the theater. He walked past tons of people right up to me! I kept thinking he was looking at me as he was talking beforehand, but I always think people on-stage are looking at me, so I figured I was just imagining things. He was hilarious, especially so close up. I just kept laughing and blushing, responding to what he said to me; I didn't mind at all. It was kinda fun to be a part of it! It definitely helped me feel better and more relaxed about things. After the show, other audience-members kept asking me if I'd been a plant.
After staying up until almost 2am talking the night before, I got up around 9 and went to breakfast, hooked up with my roomie and her boyfriend. We walked around campus a bit, then went into town to Starbucks. Then we went to a fascinating talk by Austin Sarat discussing his famous Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought course, "Murder".
Next was the talk I was supposed to speak at, "What Amherst did/did not teach me". There were around 15-20 students, all from my class, who were each supposed to share for about 2 minutes on that topic. Here is (approximately) what I said:
"Like N said, I'm a computer programmer. This means that I work with a lot of geeks. You might even say I'm a geek myself. However, I'm an articulate geek. This is unusual in technology, and I think that's what Amherst gave me. The ability to communicate, and on top of that, the ability to listen and understand people. I do user interface design, and unlike a lot of technical people I'm able to talk to the users, and come to understand not just what they want but what they need, and what kind of system would work best for them. And then, because i learned some coding here too, I write it for them.
Another thing Amherst taught me was that it's never too late to have a happy childhood.
I recently bought a house. What Amherst did not teach me is that the grass doesn't cut itself! It keeps growing and growing, every week!
Also, Amherst did not teach me that in the Real World you don't get to eat dinner with your best friends every night. You don't get to spend your days living with and surrounded by your best friends."
I probably did not deliver my talk as best as I could. Although some parts of it were intended to be funny, I guess I didn't have the proper amount of confidence: it startled me when people laughed (which they did, a lot!). I didn't pause enough when people laughed, and the proper rhythms weren't quite there. It's been awhile since I've spoken in public! However it was well-received even so. Several people came up to me afterwards and said they enjoyed it, which was a wonderful glowing feeling.
To my surprise, at the panel were both of my class advisors from my time at Amherst! My frosh advisor and my CS/thesis advisor. I talked to them for a bit afterward, then walked off with my thesis advisor to spend a good hour chatting with him in the math/CS building. It was cool to catch up with him, especially since I hadn't expected to.
Next I went to another fascinating classmate's talk: Ruby the trapese artist! She shared with us some videos of her work.
It rained most of saturday....luckily I had already done lots of exploring the day before. I spent a lot of time talking with SM, catching up on our lives in the past 10 years. We went to the class dinner, then the Zumby's acapella concert. Then we danced and socialized until 1 or 2am....I even returned on my own after SM had to leave! Clearly I was feeling much braver than when the reunion began.
Not much happened on Sunday. I went to breakfast and leisurely sat around with the people with whom I'd begun to reaquaint myself. It was a little weird....there were so few people I knew there! However more and more people began to look familiar as the weekend progressed. It was an interesting time; I'm glad I went. Eventually I parted with my 1993 classmates, and spent some time wandering around campus and town again. My flight wasn't until late afternoon. I bought a few souvenirs - like a new Amherst sweatshirt, to replace my holey one. I bought a popover and an wonderful calzone, two treats I had loved while living there, and never found to be as good here....that was a good way to end my little memory trip.