Raillan Brooks: Dear Brown

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Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

This is the letter I should have written to the admission office when I was a wayward 19-year-old transfer applicant — the true one about who I would be, am and was in college.

Dear Brown,

I will never buy all the books assigned in class. Some I will get from the library, but other times I will spend the money on a book I choose. I’ll read that book instead.

When I do buy all the books, I won’t talk about them just in class. The moments I’ll be the best thinker — and, sometimes, believer — will not be in the classroom, so you might think about giving my seat to someone else if that matters to you.

I don’t think there’s anything too special about the New Curriculum, except for maybe the people who are beguiled by it. Even though I’ll brag about it to my friends back home and parry accusations that “everything is pass/fail” — almost none of us will be brave enough for that — it will only ever be the thrill of counting myself among people who fancy themselves intellectually adventurous that I return to.

There will never be a week I won’t blow off some obligation of mine. Some days I’ll just be too tired or too hungover. I’ll spend those days finding quiet. I don’t know if you know this, Brown, but college is hard. The most important thing I will learn is how to be okay with being alone. I will find my strength there, I will learn to hold steady in the relentless churn of my mind (which you will stir, Brown). I’ll spend that time gathering up the scraps and baubles that will be me, me out of the mess.

I’ll learn what real vulnerability is and nearly perish from it. Despite myself I will wonder if the color of my skin or my sexuality impoverished my education — I hate to say it, Brown, but there are people at your school who have a hard time seeing past both. So I’ll spend grocery money on tattoos, scrawling maps on myself in case I need to find the way back to the body I will sometimes run away from.

There will be times when I hate you, Brown. Many times. I will yell at you because I will be sick of dealing with your problems, like I snarl at a friend who won’t help himself, mostly because he denies that he has any problems at all.

But most of the time I will daydream about the future. The future that I will crack open with my struggle in attending you, Brown. I will imagine conversations with new friends and old, wondering how the books I did read and the late-night shouting matches with roommates over the meanings of Eastern contemplative practice might surface. I will wonder about what my life would have been like if I had not chosen Brown, whether I would have been admitted into the company of some of the smartest and bravest people I have ever met. For all my piss and vinegar, I have a feeling I’ll remember you fondly, Brown. So please admit me. I promise, I will make the most of it.