Dear Hills­dalian,

What a time to be alive.

You’ve sur­vived midterms, can quote “The Nico­machean Ethics, given Mock Rock every­thing you’ve got, shared a lunch table with Dr. Arnn, and played Thatcherball. Yes, you are a full-fledged Hills­dalian. But even if you know your way around campus back­wards and for­wards, it means absolutely nothing unless you write about it.

I’m not sug­gesting you adopt a dorky Roman pseu­donym — nothing like Publius Decius Mus — and splash your opinions all over the pages of the Col­legian. Unless you are Todd Beamer himself risen out of the Penn­syl­vania soil, few people will care when you say, “Let’s roll.” We have our own stories down here, no need to steal other people’s lives.

Like, I just remem­bered the time I met Pres­ident George W. Bush. It was December of 2008 and he was a lame duck. For reasons still unclear to me, my ele­mentary school was invited to sing Christmas carols at the White House Christmas party — a rare honor, they say.

But when we arrived, the scene was a farce.    

White House staff jammed the Heights School boys choir — some 50 strong — in a down­stairs closet with only a jug of lemonade and a plate of sugar cookies to keep us company. We were told to wait for when the pres­ident was ready to receive us. Until then, it was Lord of the Flies.

We fought over every­thing: the cookies, the lemonade, and of course the napkins stamped with the White House seal. And as our squirming bodies sky­rocketed the closet’s tem­per­ature, our armpits — sweating under white shirts, red ties, and blue Nautica jackets — made the place smell like a locker room floor.

But finally, finally, Bush was ready to meet us. We tramped out in a single file line and one-by-one we shook W.’s hand. Then we sang, poorly.

Mission accom­plished.

In the years fol­lowing, hardly anyone at school talked about it. Why would we? We sweated for a couple hours in the White House. Chuck Colson did that every day — and he went to prison!

What we did talk about (and what really ended up mat­tering) was the time we raced down Wis­consin Avenue at 4:00 a.m. Or all those times we smoked cig­a­rettes in the woods before school. The time my brother got in trouble for chasing a barefoot kid around Olympia, Greece, clapping the poor kid’s shoes together while playing the Spice Girls on his iPhone speakers.

Even now, in college it’s the little stories like these that my friends and I talk about the most. No one else really cares to hear these stories, and that’s alright. We’re here to entertain each other, not change the world.

So write your opinions, but hold your stories more dear. It doesn’t matter if they come off as corny as the first para­graph of this piece (which, yes, I ripped from the “Current Stu­dents” page of If you’re building lasting friend­ships through speech, being right about the world can wait.

Some­times when I get dreamy, I think of a group of 40-year-old divorced men all sitting around a bar. It’s open mic night and one of them requests Billy Joel’s “Vienna.” A par­tic­u­larly dis­gruntled stock­broker takes the mic and wails out that despairing chorus:

“But you know that when the truth is told,

That you can get what you want or you get old.

You’re gonna kick off before you even

Get halfway through.

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you.”

The whole bar joins in his sad song. They’re old and they didn’t get what they want. The best they can do now is to drown their sorrows in song — and they stories they tell them­selves to live.

It won’t be long before we run into bad times too; you’d better hope you have a written record of all the good to keep yourself level.


A true American