Last Saturday, I marched into downtown Northfield with the majority of the senior class. As is tradition, we celebrated the fact that there are (roughly) 100 days left of our time here at St. Olaf by being obnoxiously loud in the Crossroads and marching down Ole Ave in search of cheap beer and school-sanctioned tomfoolery. Some of us may have started the whole process a little earlier in the day, but, out of my deep respect for the school’s dry campus policy, I’ll refrain from commenting.
Besides, what struck me most wasn’t the sight of an incalculable wave of my peers bearing down on the Cannon River bridge. I wasn’t shocked by how loud we were or how excited. I didn’t bat an eye at the sight of people, for whom I have the utmost respect, face-planting in the snow on the side of the road. For a lot of students, the 100 Days March is the beginning of the end and the first time we have to face the fact that we’ll soon be quitting Northfield forever and moving on to new places and new lives. Of course, we’re all going to feel the need to cut loose a bit.
No, what really caught me by surprise were the families who came out of their homes and watched the march. The vast majority of them seemed to take the whole thing in good humor, laughing and in one case handing out drinks to us as we passed by. More than anything else, this fact has stuck in my head these past few days. As I walked, I realized that they step outside and watch us walk every year. For the people who live along this particular street, the 100 Days March isn’t the culmination of a four-year stint at college but an event that has been incorporated into a yearly cycle. We were not the first seniors that have marched into town, and we certainly won’t be the last.
I mentioned as much to one of the people working at the Reub for the duration of the 100 Days March event. He talked briefly about how nothing that had happened over the course of the night was anything he hadn’t seen before. What, for many of us, has begun the culmination of our time in this town and at this college is, at the same time, a routine event to be accounted for, managed and often enjoyed year after year.
I think this disconnect between event and routine embodies the relationship between us as students and the larger Northfield culture we participate in, often without thought or recognition. Sure, there are exceptions. People take on tutoring positions, become PCAs, or take on off-campus jobs. Nevertheless, I’d feel comfortable saying that most of us, most of the time, pass through Northfield with only the most cursory of interactions.
Now, I’m not making a call to action. I’m not demanding that we abandon the Hill and burst the infamous St. Olaf bubble once and for all. The bubble, cliché though it is, exists for a reason, and the vast majority of students are here to study, graduate and leave. And that’s fine. It really is. However, meeting and connecting with new people never gets easier, and meeting someone when you’re on the cusp of leaving quickly becomes tinged with bitterness. It’s tough to reach out when you know how difficult maintaining that relationship will be in the coming months.
I know that, looking back, I’ll never regret learning a name or trading a joke. Instead, I’ll regret the times I decided not to ask someone’s name or shoot the breeze in the line at a coffee shop.
I can only speak for myself, but I wonder if everyone else feels the same.