Marina Keegan, a graduate of Yale’s class of 2012, wrote “The Opposite of Loneliness” as a senior column on the eve of her own graduation. In a mere 940 words, Keegan poignantly captured the college experience: the excitement of leaving home, the trepidation of being on the precipice of adulthood, the fear of leaving behind a treasured community. She wrote about the things she wished she did or didn’t do, the insecurities that haunted her, the nagging sense that we are about to give up the best years of our lives. The sense of community she found at Yale, and the way she captured that feeling in writing, lit up in my brain like a lightbulb when I read it during my junior year of high school. Finding “the opposite of loneliness” would be my criteria for picking a school.
So off I went, visiting college after college, longing for that spark of recognition and always leaving a little disappointed and a little discouraged. There was no school where the angel choirs began to sing, I complained to my college counselor. She told me to keep an open mind. So in the fall of my senior year, I took the Amtrak to Providence.
The girl I was visiting was a first-year, and it was two weeks into the semester. She barely knew how to get to the dining hall, much less answer all of my existential questions about Brown. But over the course of the night, as I met person after person, they all had the same magnetic energy. “Are you coming to Brown?” they’d ask. “It’s incredible, you have to come here,” they assured me. Rather than ignoring the random pre-frosh who was tagging along with them to the SV pool party (someone lent me an 18-year-old ID to get in), they earnestly engaged me in conversation, eager to answer my questions. Their kindness was palpable, and I was hooked. Maybe Brown was the place where I could find “the opposite of loneliness” after all.
And indeed, Brown has provided me with the opposite of loneliness — and more. Over the last four years, I have learned and lived and laughed and loved. I’ve pulled all nighters, I’ve napped in the sun on the Main Green, I’ve studiously avoided the SciLi and I’ve danced until my feet almost fell off. And the glue that binds all these experiences is feeling firmly, irrefutably part of a community.
But I’ve also realized that I don’t quite agree with Keegan. I don’t think the feeling I get at Brown is the opposite of loneliness, because so many things in college are, inherently, lonely. Sitting in the Rock stacks at 2 a.m. finishing a paper is lonely. Crying over your first heartbreak is lonely. Wondering where people might be hanging out at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday is lonely. Loneliness and isolation abound, even when we refuse to acknowledge their existence. But I have come up with a phrase I think encapsulates the Brown experience: the warmth of here.
There is a specific type of coziness I feel at Brown, like the warmth of sinking into a bath. Every time I come back to Providence after being away, there’s a comfort that seeps into my bones, soothing me. This warmth, of being together in community, is so rooted in this space, and I fear losing it as we move far away from Providence’s embrace.
To me, the feeling of community at Brown, which sustains and fuels us through our time here, isn’t just about the academic experience. Sure, we burrow in these small communities for love and companionship and comfort. But more than that, it’s about being together in this city and on this campus. It’s about running into someone on the Main Green whom you haven’t seen in weeks and chatting with them. It’s the coffee dates, the post-class chit-chats, the walk to Jo’s after a long night. This feeling, this being part of something, is unquestionably tied to being together on Brown’s campus.
We lost so much of this during COVID. As we were sent away from campus during spring 2020, I felt like this distinctly Brown feeling — this warmth of here — was being pried out of my hands. FaceTimes and Zoom calls helped bridge the gap, but they weren’t enough. There was something that couldn’t be replicated, even as I met up with friends from school for socially distanced strolls.
Even in fall 2020, when I returned to Providence, it still wasn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong: I had so much fun that semester. I took leave from the University to intern and campaign, fueled by the importance of my work. I made homemade pizzas with my roommates in my Fox Point apartment, regularly roamed through India Point Park and even fell in love. But there was still something missing. I missed the random chats, the awkward run-ins, the 40-minute conversation you had in the Blue Room to avoid going to the library. I missed the warmth of here, which, to me, is intrinsically tied to participating in the life lived on Brown’s campus.
This is why it’s so scary to leave. Even armed with deep friendships, promises of weekly phone calls and BeReal, we will lose the warmth of here. As we move to New York or Boston or Washington D.C., these places will never be Brown’s campus. We might live with friends from Brown or work with alumni from Brown or marry someone from Brown, but we will lose this elusive, fuzzy, soul-nourishing warmth of being together, of being here.
I’m an optimist, though. Even if we may never again have the warmth of here, I don’t think the rest of our lives are going to suck. It’s laughable to think that we’re already out of our prime. So we can look back on our Brown experience with love and gratitude, remembering all of these special moments. But going forward, we can and should try to find spaces that give us that same warm, bubble-bath feeling. Maybe the warmth of here can be found in multiple places, if we’re brave enough to look for it.