One thing that is definitely weird being a grad student at a fairly large school is coming to terms with the fact that everyone comes from different undergraduate academic backgrounds. At first I was like, well duh. Of course it’s going to be different. My undergrad institution had about 2000 people (go Carleton!) and I knew just about everyone. My graduate institution is 32,000 strong, about 6000 of which are grad students. That’s a lot of people, and I knew there were going to be a whole lot of undergrad institutions represented in the population of grad students.
What I didn’t really understand was how weird it would feel trying to explain the quirks that Carleton had to all of my new friends and peers that went to other schools.
It’s hard to reminisce about the tradition where everyone at a Carleton dance or party takes off their shirts and dances topless when Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” is played at midnight when literally no one except other Carleton students can even begin to understand what would compel a person to do that in the first place.
Lucky for me, there are a handful of other Carls in my city and a weirdly large proportion of them (including my boyfriend who I live with) were physics majors (like me). The physics majors at Carleton were quite a tight bunch, so even though I wasn’t besties with all the other majors, it sort of went unspoken that if you were a physics major at Carleton then you were by default friends with all other physics majors in all graduating classes.
So anyway, the other night a bunch of us nerds got together to get drinks downtown and celebrate the someone’s birthday, and I was a little surprised at how much like “home” it felt. I was surrounded by people that understood all the jokes and quirks and weird traditions I was talking about. I could mention a professor and someone else would chime in with a funny story about that professor. It’s amazing how much a small, close-knit community like that at Carleton can create such a long lasting bond between the alumni.
On one hand, I love meeting all the new people with different backgrounds. It’s refreshing, and I’d be lying if I said that I never felt suffocated by how small Carleton was. On the other hand, there is something inherently comforting about occasionally surrounding myself with Carls and bonding over our shared experiences. All in all, I’m just incredibly grateful to have gone to Carleton in the first place. I can’t wait for my 5 year reunion to roll around so I can REALLY be surrounded by old friends and feel that sense of home a thousand-fold stronger. In the meantime, I’m very excited to get to know all my peers better and bond over our shared grad school experience as it unfolds.
PS. I promise this post is not just a great big plug for Carleton. I’ve just been thinking about it lately and thought it’d make a good post since being a Carl is a large part of my academic and social identity.