I’d never tasted something as sweet as freedom on the last morning of freshman orientation. After days of seminars, small groups, mingling and mixing, I relished the opportunity to discover the College of William and Mary on my own terms, devoid of repetitive small talk and numbing monologues about the COLL curriculum.
That morning, I embarked on my first independent foray through the College. I read on the Sunken Garden, meandered around New Campus, and spent an embarrassingly lengthy amount of time muttering pithy phrases to myself in the reverberating Tyler Garden. To conclude my explorative morning, I ventured to Sadler Center, eager for my first official meal swipe as a college student.
Armed with coffee and a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, I sat down at a small table in Sadler’s wide, circular atrium. I gingerly sipped my dark roast, ate my cereal, and watched as the soy milk in my bowl turned a muddy brown. This was the quiet breakfast that I’d longed for during the preceding days of extroversion.
Yet to some bystanders at Center Court, my solitude seemed indicative of an underlying issue. Throughout my brief meal, several people approached me and asked if I was sitting alone. When I said yes, they all reacted as if I’d burst into tears; their gazes turned pitiful, and they either quietly hurried away or offered feeble condolences. Self-consciousness began to churn inside of me, so to avoid the discomfort, I wolfed down my cereal and fled back to my residence hall.
I don’t mean to disparage the students who approached me that morning, as I know their intentions were motivated by genuine concern over my wellbeing. The Tribe community prides itself on its inclusivity and compassion, and they likely interpreted my solitude as reflective of sadness or social isolation. Guided by that spirit, I’m sure they empathized with a seemingly lonely freshman and felt compelled to approach me.
Still, on a campus that preaches individuality and respect, the needs and desires of the introvert should not be maligned. I simply wanted to eat alone and revel in silence for a few moments. I was not seeking pity or attempting to convey my sorrow to the world. Solitude is not shameful, and it is not deserving of special attention or unearned sympathy.
Acclimating to college is a challenging and emotional process, and it’s natural for freshmen to feel stressed as they construct new lives at the College. For many first-year students, the transition to college is made easier by constant socialization and the formation of new acquaintanceships. For others, the needs of alone time and personal rejuvenation are essential in developing a healthy, happy livelihood. Though the extroverted model is often highlighted and promoted in modern culture, both approaches toward acclimation are entirely valid. Taking time for oneself shouldn’t be viewed as a reason for shame, and the tapestry of extroverts, ambiverts and introverts is a proud component of our College’s atmosphere. I urge us to work harder in embracing it in order to cultivate an even more inclusive and respectful campus.
Email Ethan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.