Columns, Opinions

Aidan Calvelli: UNIV0100: How to Fall in Love

Guest Columnist
Friday, May 24, 2019

You’re supposed to learn all sorts of things in college: how to read more critically, solve for a p-value, live on your own, manage your time efficiently or maybe even shotgun a beer. Brown tries to prepare its students to “discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.” Its liberal educational goal is to help students develop the “full range of (their) intellectual capacities.”

Four years later, at least speaking for myself, I think Brown achieved its mission. My classmates and I are prepared (enough) to start our careers and serve our communities. We’ve gained knowledge and skills while growing into our quasi-adult selves. But beyond all these important, practical concerns, Brown also taught me something I didn’t expect to learn in college: how to fall in love.

When I first stepped on campus, I explicitly prioritized my educational interests over my romantic ones. My high school girlfriend and I had just (amicably, but painfully) split up for college, so I gave myself a “self-imposed moratorium”: no romantic entanglements until I had fully moved on. (A journal entry from September 2015 that reads “YOU’RE NOT READY YET” suggests my emotional healing was neither a smooth nor short process.)

That moratorium was tested about three weeks into my first semester during a flirtationship with my next-door neighbor in New Pembroke #3. Rules were rules, though, and since I was “NOT READY,” I pumped the brakes and got back to my schoolwork. Other unrequited loves followed over the years, throwing me through a crash course in being rejected while staying true to my feelings.

Romantic love, though, was just one of the many kinds of love Brown taught me about. I fell in love with people and ideas, places and memories — and Brown seemed perfectly set up to show me how.

The open curriculum embodies Brown’s commitment to love. Its freedom allows you to figure out what you love and study it. You’re not wedded to any conception of yourself or burdened by requirements you won’t enjoy; instead, you are encouraged to explore your passions with abandon. The open curriculum pushes you to take personal risks, dive into uncertainty, embrace the potential for failure and learn about people and ideas radically different from your own. I know Brown is anti-requirements, but those sound to me like pre-reqs for falling in love.

Even the banal structure of academic life gave me a lesson in love. Life here is broken into short, defined semesters, during which we’re encouraged to immerse ourselves in new classes and new experiences. Shopping period teaches us to search broadly for our passions and reminds us not to settle for the subpar. Reading period lets you pour all your focus into final projects that, at their best, engage with your favorite parts of the course. And when one semester ends (and so too does a class you enjoyed), the next semester just rolls around, almost as if Brown is reminding us that the search for love never ends.

Of course, falling in love also happens outside the classroom. College occupies a liminal space, somewhere between child- and adulthood: We are able to take on meaningful projects, yet empowered to start fresh and pursue new interests as they arise. Combine this with a socially engaged campus culture and you have a recipe for students falling in love with the communities they join. I didn’t expect a random club my friend prodded me to join to become central to my identity. But here I am, a tear welling up in my eye as I realize I’ll never attend another Brown Political Review meeting. (I now know how to cry, so I guess Brown also taught me to overcome my tough-guy masculinity complex.)

My best Brown stories involve learning to love the people, moments and ideas fundamental to my time here. Whether I was obsessing over a comma in a Herald article, journaling from the fire escape of Corliss-Brackett or reciting a Neruda poem on a first date, the freedom and opportunity of Brown taught me to feel fully and love deeply.

I might soon forget how to find a derivative or what the Supreme Court ruled in Jenness v. Fortson. But I won’t forget what it’s like to devote my life to something or someone, to commit to what I care about with all of my heart. In this passionate, all-consuming way, Brown taught me how to fall in love. Whether I learned that lesson just satisfactorily, or with distinction? Only the registrar knows.

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