Jam On

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What is Brown?

For some of us, Brown is the place where we found our first love. For many of us, it is the place where we discovered our academic passions-another love affair of sorts. Brown has been the place where we experienced our first-year orientation, shared a living space with a roommate, and enjoyed “chicken-finger Friday” lunches together.

For all of us, Brown is rooted in a place. This place. We have all strolled across the Main Green, sat in contemplation on the Quiet Green, and reclined on Lincoln Field. I remember rainy days when Wriston Quad became a swamp, snowy days when Lincoln Field became a sledding ground perfect for dining-hall trays, and sunny days when the Main Green housed the largest outdoor concert in Rhode Island.

As Brown students, we have an intimate familiarity with this physical space, as we have come to call it home. My first home at Brown was Keeney. The sign to the left of my door was supposed to read “Jameson,” but someone had darkened the middle “e-s” so that the single word became two: “Jameson” now read “Jam On.” I liked it. It made me feel as though other students were speaking to me through the walls, nudging me forward. No matter what my future path, I was sure it would be good if I was jamming. Keeney Quad quickly became my dance studio when a friend, who had joined the Ballroom Dance team, agreed to perfect my waltzing technique as the sun set outside. The Quad morphed into my personal theater when, to my delight, I heard haunting violin music wafting through the air-an invisible classmate was playing to her heart’s content.

For many of us, our first-year dormitories became our collective home. We sat in long lines in the hallways, legs propped up on the carpet, as we rolled our heads back in laughter or bent them forward over a textbook. For others, the wider city of Providence became our home, as we traveled off College Hill and into middle-school classrooms, nonprofit agencies, and the State House. Some even called other countries “home,” as we studied abroad in places as diverse as China, Australia, and Cuba, as well as Denmark, where I personally lived for a semester. Collective events, like midnight organ concerts in Sayles Hall and memorial services for those who are no longer with us, drew us together for times of unity. Even if we found ourselves momentarily alone, we were never truly alone. The places we inhabited were always filled with the physical or non-physical presence of our friends, mentors, and peers at Brown, who continuously and relentlessly cheered us on.

As we have danced, sledded, and jammed our way through these physical spaces, each of us has also embarked on our own social and intellectual journey. As we have learned, studied, and delved into the topics that most tug at our intellectual core, we have discovered new ways of looking at the world. One day, after studying the columns of the Acropolis during an art-history course, I walked onto the Quiet Green and saw the fluted columns on Manning Hall in a new light. Though the columns had not changed since I had seen them last, they now spoke to me more richly than they ever had before. My new knowledge of the columns that graced the Acropolis allowed me to connect Manning Hall to the architects of ancient Greece, to the statesman Pericles, and to the more modern creative minds who dip into the past for their inspiration. Our academic and our physical paths cross each other daily, weaving a web of learning that stretches and sticks to nearly every corner of our campus.

The walls of my first-year dormitory provided me with a clear message. They told me in plain English not to take myself too seriously, but rather, to jam on-to sing, to dance, and to have a good time. “Don’t spend every waking moment studying for your exam,” the walls seemed to urge me. “Pay attention also to the swing dancing, the theater performances, the life pulsing around you.” Jam with friends, with mentors, with professors. Jam with anyone who will share in this experience with you. We have all “jammed” in our own ways, whether as part of the Brown band or an athletic team, whether in the List Art building or in a MacMillan chemistry laboratory. We have all sought out and found the elements of life that give us the most energy, the most passion, that make our hearts sing. Throughout our time here, we have crafted our own paths with the help of those around us, who have always encouraged us to follow our passions and our dreams.

At the core of our experience, we have created our own personal spaces out of Brown’s physical places. We have filled Brown’s rooms, dining halls, and Greens with the people we love most. Whether aware of it or not, we have actualized the writing inscribed on one of Brown’s most stately fixtures, the Carrie Bell Tower. Built in 1904 on the Quiet Green, the soaring tower reminds us in stone: “Love is Strong as Death.” The love we feel toward one another and toward Brown will continue to thrive long after we leave this physical place.

As we begin the next chapters of our lives, let us all remember that wherever we travel, we are not alone. Brown’s walls will continue to prop us up, just as they did when we sat against them during our first years here. Even if the Van Wickle gates only open twice a year, remember that we can always sneak in through the side gates if we need to. Just as the laughter of our friends echoed throughout this campus, so, too, will their voices continue to echo in our souls. For, as the Carrie Bell Tower reminds us, our love shall never die.

As we prepare to walk through the Van Wickle gates, I will leave us all with this: No matter where our journeys take us, always remember to pursue those activities that make us feel most fulfilled. Always seek those people who make us feel most loved. And always remember to jam on.

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