Last week I received in the mail alumni magazines from the two colleges I attended, Hamilton College and Wheaton College. It was a poignant reminder of the education that I missed out on by leaving Hamilton for Wheaton. As I do when I am reminded sometimes, I grieved a little bit for the education and the experiences I could have had.
When I decided to transfer to Wheaton, I believed that spiritual life as a Christian was more important than anything. I feared that if I stayed at a secular college, I would spend all my time merely treading water as a Christian, never moving forward in my spiritual development. As it turned out, I spent most of my college life treading water intellectually. Although I have regret about that, I can’t discount the spiritual journey I went through, or the things I learned there.
I learned a lot from my college experience at Wheaton, mostly as a result of negative feedback rather than positive feedback. For one, I really learned to appreciate diversity. In the welcoming environment of Hamilton, I didn’t see why diversity was necessary. I knew plenty of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, atheists, liberals, and international students at Hamilton, and I didn’t understand why they were always making a big to-do about tolerance and acceptance, since they were accepted on campus. I myself am an ethnic minority, but I didn’t get why diversity in any of its forms was important, until I went to Wheaton. There was no tolerance or acceptance, much less welcome, for most of the above.
When I became an atheist and realized that Christianity had given me a feeling of shame and an obligation to be ashamed of things that were not shameful– things like being a minority, and a Democrat, and a woman, and other things for which I am even less to blame– only then did I finally feel like I understood diversity.
Another lesson I learned through negative feedback as a biology major was the importance of sound science and the importance of evolution as a unifying narrative. And the rich intellectual joy of learning for its own sake. And I learned a lot of lessons about how not to treat people. Still, I feel like I missed out on some important lessons that can only be learned through positive feedback.
I loved Hamilton dearly when I was there. But I love it even more now, as I have more appreciation for the experience I would have had there. I am becoming more and more the type of person who would appreciate it. Is it better to long for opportunities that you don’t have, or to have opportunities that you don’t want? Who could have known? Still, I love the person I have become and the things I have come to care about.