At the first affiliate event we hosted at Burnett House, a few first years asked me, “What do you do here?” They did not ask, “What is your favorite meal? Who are your friends? What classes do you like? How do you survive the workload?” They also did not ask, “Are you happy? Have you found love? Have you found yourself?”

I was struck by this question because I was at a real loss for how to answer it. We were standing in a small circle, one of many small circles at the party, holding cups filled with cider and eating a lot of cheese. There’s something about a small circle of people that makes it easy to forget you don’t know anybody in it. After all, we have been practicing standing and sitting in circles since pre-school.

Two of my best friends were standing on either side of me. They answered orchestra and a women's discussion group, Student government and organic gardening, Peer Health and outdoor leadership. 

“Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in any of these,” they said to the first years. 
Their lists probably could have gone on, but these were their main activities. These two friends of mine are bright eyed and beautiful and funny and smart. They are musical and mathematical and read entire books in one morning. 

Upon hearing their lists, the first years looked energized instead of intimidated. So many options, so many ways to get involved. It was just what was promised in the college brochure.

I had no idea what to say. I could not answer with a list. I wanted to say, “Sometimes I watch cooking tutorials on YouTube. I fill up journals and can’t read my own writing. I struggle to finish all my essays and readings and take-home exams. Sometimes I call my mom and talk for forty-five minutes.” 

What do I do at college? I spend hours lying on the Ikea rug in my room on the third floor of an old house listening to Patsy Cline.

What else? Well, I’m in love with someone 3,000 miles away, and loving someone takes more energy than any extracurricular I’ve ever done. Sometimes I unroll my yoga mat. When I feel sick with worry, I walk to the next town over. I get coffee and let people rant to me about the things that hurt. Often, I bake bread and it goes horribly, horribly wrong. I’m not the head of an organization, but I have conquered an eating disorder.

If there’s anything I’ve done here, it’s learn that it is so much harder to slow down than to speed up.

So here’s to doing nothing. To the quiet moments. To the days you sit within yourself and just watch. To soft music, handwritten words, silence. To listening to the way snow sounds underfoot. To watching dusk and dawn come and go.

We should be proud of the moments we do not try to fill. Not that activities and extracurriculars and essays aren’t tremendous and important. But sometimes I want to gather the busy students, the ones with crunched faces and big backpacks, and say, “Shh. It will all be okay. Let yourself settle. Enjoy the nothingness."
There will be times in our lives when the car breaks down, when the children are crying—times that will be much noisier and certainly more difficult than college. And even then, we must commit to the moments of nothing, the moments of sheer, simple joy. Eating a perfectly fried egg. Opening an untouched notebook.

Doing nothing does not mean failure. Pausing does not mean stopping. We are stirring up the dust by learning so much, and we must create a space for that dust to settle. 

We are all superheroes with an Achilles heel: We are afraid to stop moving, afraid that if we for one second return to our introverted Peter Parker/Clark Kent selves, the world will be too far gone to save. But the reality is, it won’t. After all, it does take some time to figure out what our powers are in the first place. 

Raisa Tolchinsky is a member of the Class of 2017.