We’re familiar with the concept of the Bowdoin Bubble—Bowdoin isn’t just a school or community, but is its own universe. A closed, contained system, Bowdoin works hard to supply everything we need without us having to step off campus.  We know where to eat, where to sleep and certainly where to drink. Bowdoin is a culture as much as an institution, thick with its own esoteric codes, rituals and customs.  

When we return home, we have to translate our experiences in order to communicate. How many of us have generalized the dreamlike and debauched holiday that is Ivies to a less-enthused “Spring Weekend”? Described our proctors as “half-RA, half-dad”? Called Spring Gala, simply, “Prom at College”? 

Bowdoin is its own world—and part of that is keeping the actual world out. We forget the Bowdoin Bubble also describes the sheltering effects of this campus. The smallest trips down the road merit the excitement of travel—who here as gone to Wild Oats or Little Dog because they “just needed to get away”? It feels like you should need a passport for a trip to Portland.

Mentally, too, we’re kept protected, focused on Bowdoin alone. Our commitments to Bowdoin start providing us our identities: we’re a club leader, a Head RA, a member of Safe Space. Climbing up the Bowdoin ladder means engraining ourselves further into the campus community fabric, and it also means equating personal success to Bowdoin success. After all, what are we at Bowdoin for? College is ultimately about self-enrichment and self-advancement. 

College—not just the institution, but the period in our lives—is an inherently selfish time, one that’s dedicated to cultivating our talents, aspirations and skills. For four years, we’re supposed to focus on ourselves, and we’re given a supportive place to do that. We’re given a Bubble.

As a college student, it’s easy to consider “the real world” only in theory. Most of the exposure we have with it here isn’t through interaction, but transmitted through a textbook, discussed in a lecture or examined in an essay. We treat the real world (which I often forget is real) as a place of study and consideration, something we provoke from afar to benefit our growing minds and satisfy our intellectual curiosity. The real world isn’t supposed to provoke us back. 

But sometimes, it does. Sometimes, something like the Boston Marathon bombings happens. Something like an unexpected illness happens. Something like a family emergency happens. Or even something small: a medical bill, a summer job, going to a sibling’s graduation. A collision occurs, and our college-time above reality vanishes. 

The most difficult thing I’ve had to do at college is reconcile the terms of Bowdoin with the terms of the real world, to find a way to prioritize and compartmentalize the urgencies and responsibilities of two separate universes. As shameful as this sounds, we can be so self-involved at Bowdoin—on making the most of the time we’re allotted here—that reminders of the outside feel like unfair interruptions. 

When my house was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy, I found it hard to concentrate on my schoolwork. My Chaucer paper and my geology lab report seemed to pale in comparison to the images of my family wading through our flooded house, trying to rescue our sodden and mucky furniture. I wanted to come home, but they told me to remain at school—they told me to stay focused, that I was doing something important here. Was I? 

To my parents’ point, college prepares us for the real world, so we can justify our time spent here by calling it an investment. Standing behind Bowdoin are our dreams and our ambitions, as well as the hard obstacles we will encounter and hope to overcome. Those presences act as motivation but also as a pressure, a pressure to keep our head in the books. By matriculating, we tell ourselves that the real world is going to wait until we’re ready for it. 

I say this all without meaning to be insensitive. Of course, I don’t mean to subordinate the events of the world to the deadlines of our history papers because I believe that’s a proper ranking. Of course the real world isn’t going to wait for us, and it doesn’t. It’s how we deal with this tension between the bubble and the universe that might represent one of our biggest challenges here at school.