Andover is finite. It begins in our ripe age of adolescence, and then it leaves you a few years later. The couple of years — three, in my case — you spend at the Academy rush by, leaving a different person in their wake.
Back home in my New Mexican town, I used to shudder at the smallest imperfection in my life. I was a type-A overachiever know-it-all who really never settled. I learned very quickly that any form of perfectionism was futile at Andover. And, by “very quickly,” I mean lunch period of my first day at school Lower year.
Upon entering Paresky Commons for the third time in my life, I first witnessed the theatrical phenomenon depicted on television, in books and in every “Mean Girls” spin-off: the cafeteria question. Anxious and so obviously lost, I entered Lower Right, cup and plate in hand, and immediately I tripped over some dastardly nub in the ground, losing hold of my blue plastic water glass. In effort to stop the cup from cascading to the tile ground, I staggered forward, floundering desperately for a hold on the cruel chalice. You know, I almost caught the glass, but in my violent attempts to save myself and also my pride, I neglected the warm delightful plate of broccoli and chicken in my other hand. The cup rattled to the ground, drawing everyone’s eye, shortly before my plate crashed down right behind it, scattering those gratifying broccolis across the ground.
My dearest readers, it is impossible not to fall at Andover, both figuratively and literally. Between the locked doors, random steps, push/pull entries (I’m talking about you, OWHL) and ancient buildings, this place is actually like a minefield for clumsy people. But Andover is a pressure cooker on all fronts. We live and breathe pressure. After a while, the social scene, academic conquests and general milieu of this place poke little holes in you. Andover, I think we all recall vividly the first test we flunked (Thanks, Mr. Doba <3), the goal — or well, goals — we did not score, the friend we upset and the piercing rejections we received maybe from a board or leadership position or perhaps from the dark, mysterious Mr. Perfect in one of our classes. The diversity of ideas, the rigor and rampant failure I found at Andover diminished my dogmatism, checked my pride and perforated my understanding of the world and of myself.
Whether it is in the classroom, Political Union, the Feminism at Andover page, the dormitory or adjacent bathroom stalls, Andover students never agree to disagree; they explore, they argue and they listen, absorbing new principles and understanding. I’m not going to go Batman on you, but I am going to go Batman (or Alfred, if you wanna get technical) on you: all that falling and all those bruises amount to something really invaluable. Andover poked holes in me since day one, but it filled those holes with things far richer. It filled me with a voice emboldened to advocate and to question, the song of dorm room giggles, the hymn of “non sibi” and the drumming beat of spirit as it marches down the Cochran Chapel path in ASM… I’ve consumed the hallowed melody of Virgil in Pearson, the whim of Andover’s infamous LARP society, the bravery and compassion of my incredible teachers and the wonder engendered by the Bell Tower. Through all these years, my teachers, friends and mentors have filtered through me: Andover’s people, ideas and feelings whittled me down, and, from the loose clay, I was reassembled.
Sometimes, I think about the person I was before Andover. I search for the naivety, innocence and idealism I used to foster, but during hard times, my past self seems unrecognizable, dusted over by trials and tension of the Academy. Andover, what you are is a wake-up call, a rite of passage and an undertaking of realism. Falling over and over again brought me closer than ever to reality, and yet, even still, there are moments when the dust picks up and the romance and idealism of former years radiates through your austerity and candor.
There are fleeting instants when I am lifted by a sense of sweeping relevance and belonging here on campus: This happens when I pirouette along the walls of the illuminated Bell Tower, trailing my fingers within the engraved names and musing over the resolute Latin script, “POST EOS LUCET VIA” — “the way shines after them.” It returns during those poignant ASMs, during our haunting moments of silence and when the Senior Class bangs in unison on the Chapel pews. Here at Andover, I stumbled, at times, felt hopelessly inadequate and I undoubtedly got lost, but sometimes I lost myself in something that felt more significant than myself, and I stumbled upon new meaning.
Friends, Andover is beautiful and small and short-lived, but it is also large and beautiful and perennial. An awakening and a dream, an education both transient and everlasting and a microcosm of realism united with wonder, Andover is a finite entanglement of infinite meaning.
_Malina Simard-Halm is a three-year Senior from Santa Fe, NM, and a Co-Head of the Philomathean Society._