the heartbeat

My phone is dead, so I’m present.

“I have a thirteen-page paper due tomorrow and I just found my major source. And it’s due tomorrow.”

What are the scenes of a campus with a heartbeat?

As I settle into the overstuffed green-and-white polka-dotted chair—my spot of choice—an a cappella group’s dress rehearsal is breaking up. Goodbyes are sung as they sling backpacks and tote bags around experienced shoulders and sing Friday night teasers at half-volume.

I could exchange one boy in athletic shorts and headphoned ears for another, but I don’t want to. The girls, too—t-shirts and leggings, but I want them all to be individuals. All I can think about these days—never drilled into my head enough freshman year—is how worthy these people are. How worthy thousands of other kids at other schools in other states are, too. I feel honored. The numbers half of my brain knows that statistics and aggregate descriptions of “Vandy kids,” of how we dress and talk and act in similar ways, are not meant to offend but to ease the cognitive load on our brains. But I always want to keep thinking that the boy who just walked by me, with the carabiner hooking his water bottle to his backpack, polishing off an apple and checking his phone, easily just himself, is worth knowing.

Discerning a group project or a group of friends here is easy if you know what to look for. Friends sit strewn across a couple of tables or some couches, the volume ranging from murmured equations to loud laughter, disrupting productivity but something we wouldn’t change for the world. Group projects—a dime a dozen in Rand at nine—look at their computers, look at each other, look at their computers again. They’re brainstormed by hand-talking boys and nailed down by shrugging girls.

“We’re going third, so we can practice it before we go.”

“Yeah, and I have nothing else to do tonigh—

“Oh yeah, I was gonna practice a ton tonight.”

One boy, headphoned like I could have predicted, turns the corner, slapping a wrapper into the trash and bending below the frosted glass classroom windows to forage for a study room. Just as he makes the loop in defeat, another headphoned boy replaces him. Same goal, no luck, everyone always has the same idea Wednesdays at nine.

There are problem sets to be erased and rewritten, last-minute job applications to be submitted, Munchie runs to make. These scenes are common to every college campus on a US News list, but we don’t know anything else. It’s special for us.

I get up to go to the bathroom and grab today’s issue of the Hustler off the newspaper rack on my way back. Apparently they print one for every undergrad student at Vanderbilt, but there are always tons of extras sitting around until next Wednesday morning when they become old news. In the office this morning, we got a double delivery—so practically every family visiting Vanderbilt today at 10am could read about Vanderbilt’s year in review.

It’s becoming harder to answer the question of why I chose to come to Vanderbilt, maybe because it’s been 4 years since it was a choice and since then, Vanderbilt has strapped itself right into the most mundane and daily part of my heart. It’s my favorite place because it’s the backdrop for every day these days.

There are lots of ways for this place to make headlines. Sexual assault is probably the most salient reason. There are other, less grave reasons—we’re the happiest student body in the country two years running. An accomplishment for sure, but I’m more interested in the insignificant Wednesday nights. It’s someone’s best night tonight, and someone else’s worst night. Actually, at fewer than 7,000 students, I don’t feel totally comfortable with those odds. Tonight might just be an average one for all of us, but we get to practice for real life here and I dig that.

Right now you could probably find some kids out doing the things we brand Vanderbilt with: at indie house shows that just happen to happen, down on Broadway, in big important organizational meetings because we’re all so involved. But my favorite times to remember are the ones that could just fall short of a mention–sitting on a roommate’s bed procrastinating homework or sitting next to each other not talking, just studying. Those are the special ones to me.

I used to think that every day of my life had to be curated into the best day of my life and now I just know that my attitude changes everything. I love walks around Centennial and studying on the red couches and driving to get Chick Fil A or Cookout milkshakes and FaceTimes to another country and I feel like I’ll be forever indebted to this place that has given me a playground to learn and love for a whole four years. How ridiculously generous is the experience of going to college?

It’s pretty trendy to call people out when they don’t recognize the things they’ve been handed on a silver platter, but all I see here are kids that are just trying to keep going. And I love them so much for it. Even with all the flashy stock answers I can give you about the resources at school, learning about myself and learning about other people have been both my biggest confidence-booster and biggest drawing board here.

I really like that question–what are the scenes of a campus with a heartbeat? It reminds me that life is about other people and I should grab as many chances to feel that heartbeat as I can while I’m still here.