Somehow, Some Way, Community Finds You

By Ben Baraga ‘24

Although I’ve finished my first year of college, just like the rest of my classmates, I’m mentally stuck in March of my senior year of high school! Indeed, nothing wakes you up out of a 15-month spring break like being called a “rising sophomore” and the wave of nausea that comes with it. But being bitter about a global pandemic is sooo last semester.

I’ve been thinking about all the things I’m so fortunate to have had during my first year at Pomona, and it’s a really substantial list. As a resident of Pasadena, CA (30 minutes away from the college), I’ve had the privilege to find a fair number of Sagehens in the area who I could meet in person, and forged some frankly bizarre connections across the year. I think that, despite their off-campus nature, these connections give an idea as to the character and nature of Pomona’s community, so I thought I’d share a few today.

Neighborly Faculty Relationships

I’m a shy person. I don’t like making the first move when meeting people, and I DEFINITELY don’t like approaching authority figures. That’s why, when I received an extremely kind and welcoming letter from a Pomona professor last summer telling me she was my next-door  neighbor, I immediately went into panic mode. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Talk to her? At her house? Absolutely not.

photo of letter from Professor Miyake to Ben
I still have the first letter she sent me!

Spoilers: I actually did meet with her. Professor Lynne Miyake wrote me two more letters and honestly she’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, so even someone as awkward as me felt comfortable setting up a quick meeting. She actually lives three doors down, and for our first chat we sat on her porch and talked about life. For 5 hours. Believe me when I tell you that this was one of the first moments when I knew I picked the right school. This happened around a month before class registration,  and, among all the small talk and introductions, she managed to write me up three different potential schedules of classes to take, connect me to three different current Pomona students to chat with, and email countless professors to introduce me. No, no, there’s more.

The Saturday after my first week of classes I got a knock on my door and found an ENTIRE ice cream cake with the icing message: “congrats on your first week!” Now, I know what you’re thinking: How did she know my favorite ice cream was cookies and cream? I have no idea. We now email regularly, meet every two months or so, and I still get chocolate treats for every major holiday (Halloween, Valentine’s day, you name it). And I’m most certainly not unique. This professor is like this with all of her students, as confirmed by those she connected me with. She did all that for me, without me even stepping foot on campus.

The First-Year Experience—My Life as a Sitcom Extra

In my second semester at Pomona, my girlfriend moved from Miami to SoCal (yes, we met on zoom, long story). The city she moved to is about 30 minutes from my house, a substantial drive, so I could really only visit on weekends. And, as a college student starving for social contact, I was in my car every single Friday right as class ended. This strict schedule, coupled with the ensemble cast of 6 roommates at her house and my 80s-reminiscent ugly sweaters led everyone to dub me the random uncle who shows up every 5 episodes on a Full House imitator (I like to think I was more like Spencer from Good Luck Charlie).

I’d come through the door with a wave, drop off my shoes at the shoe rack, and see what today’s episode had in store. Maybe Cooper had just shattered a mirror on the ground to set the stage for a dope sculpture design. Or maybe Declan was getting into baking and wanted to show me how to properly whisk egg-whites for meringues. Domestic life in college, much like dorm life (I would imagine), consists mainly of kids trying to do adult things and having like a 50% success rate. Sure, the broken mirror turned the garage into a spikey hazard for two months, and the meringues ended up burning and being thrown away, but it was through all this trial and error that we bonded as a group, which I believe is something that holds true for anyone planning to leave home in the future.

group of 7 students attempting to do freeze frame jump
Us trying to do the freeze frame jump–and failing

As we all bid farewell in the spring as finals came to an end, our little sitcom had a fitting season finale as we dressed up in formal attire and held a banquet dedicated to the three-month makeshift home. I had the privilege of being their host, taking polls for superlatives and announcing winners of certificates that we printed out just 5 minutes before on loose-leaf paper. These people, cheering for each other as they held hands on the big ratty couch, had met only a few months ago online, some as recently as a week before they moved in. Now they were a family, and I got to watch it all unfold every week.

So now I chuckle in the back of my mind when a young high schooler asks in a webinar how hard it is to make friends in college, or if the professors are easy to talk to. These beautiful relationships (and many more that I only caught glimpses of) were created without the benefit of Pomona’s normal safety nets: sponsor groups, Orientation Adventure, you name it. As far as I can tell, the passion of Pomona students and faculty always seems to find a way to bring you out of your shell.