Fireworks, freshmen, and friendship: after the small talk

For one night, the Gantcher Center was a pyromaniac’s paradise. Blasts of crackling, white-hot sparks sizzled across the Center’s cavernous ceiling, illuminating in short, bright bursts the upturned faces of Tufts’ Class of 2006.

The Fourth of July redux that my fellow freshmen and I witnessed on Aug. 28 was the fiery culmination of the First Night Celebration. In addition to performances by several campus a cappella groups, the program had included an informative, if somewhat frightening, slide show detailing Jumbo the elephant’s repeated demises.

The actual message of the celebration, however, was most explicitly revealed when Alan MacDougall, President of Tufts Alumni Association, took the stage, enthusiastically proclaiming that we would form the most enduring and rewarding relationships of our lives during our years at Tufts.

Several nights later, author and Tufts graduate Christopher Golden addressed the Class of 2006 in Cohen Auditorium. His speech, though not accompanied by explosions, was strikingly similar in tone to the events of the First Night Celebration. When Golden spoke of his halcyon days as an undergraduate at Tufts, his voice took on a familiar tone of unwavering reverence that echoed MacDougall’s almost perfectly.

Almost two months have elapsed since those nights. What made the greatest impressions upon me were not the admittedly impressive displays of fireworks and credentials offered by the First Night Celebration and Christopher Golden; rather, it was each event’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying assertion that it is here, at Tufts, where we will make the personal connections that will define and sustain us not only for the next four years, but for the rest of our lives.

From my newly-minted freshman standpoint, such a possibility seems uncomfortably close to the limiting medieval certainty of marrying someone from within a mile of one’s birthplace. Can it really be possible that the most rewarding, fruitful, and meaningful relationships of our lives will be formed within the Tufts radius? And how can we reconcile these almost mythical tales of friendship, mentorship, and courtship with the unabashedly superficial nature of our interactions with each other so far?

Throughout the whirlwind of the past several weeks, our exchanges with each other have been largely of the surface variety. The parade of new faces has rendered establishing in-depth connections virtually impossible; merely matching names to faces and places leaves even the sharpest student exhausted. (The expression “in one ear and out another” has taken on a new relevance in relation to this struggle: “Yo, what’s up? Dave, right?” “No man, John.” “Oh right, John _ from DC!” “Uh, no, man; I’m from Paris.” )

Once the standard “What’s your name? Where are you from? What dorm are you in? What’s your major?” line of questioning has run its course, an impasse is reached. How does one go from initiating reflexive small talk to establishing the ideological, personal, and ethical balances in which true friendships are grounded?

An undying belief in the sanctity of the relationships formed at Tufts, then, is a wonderful thing as long as you have already experience those relationships; as long as you are a “have” rather than a “have-not”

For the rest of us, however, such a fervent and oft-expressed belief in Tufts relationships is less a comfort than an impossible and immediate challenge: Hurry up! Get out there! Form a meaningful relationship. Now!

Luckily for us, the cards are stacked in our favor. Bonding of some sort is virtually included in the Tufts tuition package; like it or not, we will all be experiencing this idealized and sanitized microcosm together. We will sleep in the same rooms with each other, eat with each other, and go to classes with each other. We will share our micro-fridges, telephone bills, and, unfortunately, shower stalls _ indeed, we will share our lives with each other.

The accumulation of these common experiences cannot help but solidify into a connection on some level. The sort of profound friendships so heartily enthused about by Alan MacDougall and Christopher Golden, however, are not similarly guaranteed through such relations. The extreme convenience of our interactions does not necessarily translate into their extreme consequence.

Though we will initially form friendships because of the facilities and utilities that we share, these things will not be what bind us together in the mythic way upheld by MacDougall and Golden. Those intense, life-affirming bonds will be born of something deeper; an innate, interpersonal chemistry somehow both augmented and defined by the Tufts experience.

Though right now we are stranded in that awkward realm between “What’s your name” and intuitive union, such will not always be the case. I have faith that within the next four years my fellow freshman and I will cross the line from “have-nots” to “haves”.

We, too, will be able to testify to the enlightenment afforded us through the relationships we have formed at Tufts. And at that point, the assertion that the most meaningful connections of our lives will take root here at Tufts will not be a threat, an exhortation, or even a promise; it will be a reality.

Patrice Taddonio has yet to declare a major