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Judaism in the Cornfields

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Until Grinnell, I had lived my whole life in the East Coast Jewish bubble. I went to a private Jewish day school, ate Chinese food on Christmas, and attended more bar mitzvah ceremonies than you could shake a stick at. Don’t get me wrong, I love Manhattan kosher delis as much as the next girl, but I needed to meet different people in a new environment. This was hard for most of my friends and family to understand, and most thought I was throwing away my upbringing to live in the Iowa cornfields.

To be honest, I was a little wary, too. On the surface, Grinnell didn’t have a large Jewish population, nor a separate kosher dining hall or a bustling Hillel (the national Jewish college and university organization). As a prospective student, I attended the Chalutzim (our campus Jewish organization) weekly Shabbat Table, but I felt a little out of place. Still, I couldn’t help falling in love with Grinnell, from the down-to-earth student body, encouraging professors, quirky traditions, and social justice ideals. I accepted Grinnell’s offer with little hesitation, speculating that I would figure out the “Jewish part” once I got to campus.

The more time I spent at Chalutzim events, the more I realized that there were other ways to be Jewish besides my familial traditions. Grinnell’s small, family-like Jewish community and supportive rabbi allowed me to think about Judaism in a new way, a way that I would have never found at a heavily Jewish East Coast college. Slowly, Grinnell’s Jewish traditions have become my own. The candid conversations about religion, the student-baked challah, the familiar Friday faces — these have all become part of my daily life at Grinnell.

With the supportive environment and unique student body, Grinnell is a meaningful place for students who seek faith, fun, or just the freedom to be themselves.

Rebecca Heller '11 is a History major from Cranfield, New Jersey.

Grinnell is Swell

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Grinnell and Carleton. Those were my top two college choices when I applied. I’ll be truthful — Carleton was my top choice. I had a friend going there, and he sounded like he was having a lot of fun. “Oh man!” I thought. “I wanna have fun too!” I hadn’t figured out by this point that most people have fun at their school; that’s why they chose it.

I’ll be truthful again: I got wait-listed at Carleton. So while I hung around to hear back from them, I went to go check out Grinnell. I drove down here for an overnight stay and was 100 percent terrified. I’m not a big fan of stepping out of my comfort box, and I considered sleeping on a stranger’s floor in a state I’d never even stepped foot in before as definitely outside the box.

My host picked me up at the admission office and took me over to her dorm. We made small talk, and by small talk, I mean I’m-really-outside-of-my-element-here-someone-please-take-me-back-to-high-school nervous talk. Then I noticed this giant paper clock on the wall next to her room, divided into 12 sections, each with a different location on it (Food, Burling, Class, etc). There were several hands on this clock, each with — as I soon learned — the name of one of my host’s roommates on it.

That’s right, they had built themselves a Weasley family clock from the Harry Potter books. It took me about five more minutes of small not-so-nervous-anymore-because-you-guys-are-awesome talk for me to realize that, forget Carleton, this was the place for me. Actually, the clock was just one of many little tip-offs I got as a prospective student at Grinnell. There was also a shirt. Specifically a T-shirt worn by a rather attractive friend of my host, a shirt that came from the same webcomic as the one I was wearing. It was the connection to the webcomic that gave me the clue: maybe I was in the right place. It wasn’t the attractiveness of the guy wearing it (but while that didn’t influence my decision, it was nice that Grinnell students turned out to be about 41 times more attractive than any possible prospects I had at my high school).

After that initial awkward walk, I felt more at ease, as if I was with people who could understand me. I hung out with a handful of Grinnellians and one other prospective student who was visiting at the same time (whom I forgot all about, only to later re-meet in my American Lit class three semesters later). We played Loggia Frisbee, which meant I got to run around on the roof of our first-floor walkways catching Frisbees thrown from the ground. Wicked fun, even if my catching skills matched that of, say, a T-rex. But a T-rex who was thoroughly enjoying herself!

Some people talk about a sign they received in the final decision-making moments — a sign that somehow told them they needed to go to Grinnell. Someone got cut off in traffic by a car with a bumper sticker from her other top school. Another met a Grinnellian in their as-far-away-from-Iowa-as-possible hometown. While I was still deciding, I learned that my own hometown was like a Grinnellian super-magnet or something, because Grinnell people were popping up out of the woodwork. My across-the-street neighbor’s mother was a librarian at Grinnell; the mother of the family I babysat for was an alum; the son of a woman in my mother’s exercise class had just been hired by Grinnell’s English department.

Grinnell just wouldn't leave me alone!

I never regretted choosing Grinnell over Carleton. And often, such as when I’m running off to the Star Wars trivia contest where I’m maybe only the 34th most knowledgeable person there, I’m thankful I decided to come to here.

“Your father and I didn’t want to say anything to influence your decision,” my mom said to me after I’d sent in my housing application to Grinnell, “but we never thought Carleton would have worked for you.”

And as parents usually are (much to our disgruntlement), they were totally right.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major from Madison, Wisconsin.

My Computer Outweighs Me

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Two years ago when I was getting ready to head off to college, my parents told me I could have a laptop. Stoked beyond all reckoning, I surfed Dell’s website to decide what model I wanted (I wasn’t even going to touch those Apples. I’m a Windows junkie through and through).

Decision: a 17-inch screen with lots of multimedia features.

Consensus: biggest mistake of my life.

The thing weighs a ton — it crushes my lap! Well, not really, but it’s extremely difficult to tote around. This is a problem, because when you’re a college student, it’s usually best to study in places that are not your room. See, your room has your bed, and naps are very, very appealing in the middle of an afternoon of homework. I have so many different places I like to study: the classrooms in ARH (you can draw on the chalkboards!), outside watching the ultimate Frisbee team on Mac Field, and in the really cool jungle gyms in the library. But I can’t take my computer to any of those places — it’s just too big.

Recently, I’ve come to terms with my computer. It’s great for watching movies, but it’s not going to write papers for me on the other side of campus. But that’s OK, because Grinnell dorms often have great little study lounges that are simply calling for some poor soul with a large computer who doesn’t want to walk far. You don’t even have to leave your building! No shoes required!

Even so, I still have to contend with comments about how my computer can be used as a lethal weapon. For instance, if I dropped it on the floor in my room on the third floor, it would fall all the way down to the basement, taking out every computer within a 10-foot radius of its trajectory. Or if I was fighting an Iowa corn-monster, I could knock it out with one swing of my laptop. If I could lift it, that is.

Ha ha, very funny guys.

In addition to friends teasing me about my mammoth computer, I’ve also been given a lot of guff about not having a cell phone. Yes, I heard your gasp, all the way from Grinnell. Yup, you heard me right. I don’t have one. I think I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t, but really, I don’t feel any need to. Sure, it’s sometimes hard to get in touch with my friends, but really, the campus is only a few blocks long. It doesn’t take that much energy to walk around and find people. And chances are I’ll be with someone who has a phone anyway, so I just borrow theirs. Grinnell also has this sweet system where you can make as many calls as you want from any campus phone to any other. Just give your friend’s room a ring!

I know you might be horrified by the possibility of life without a cell, but I really enjoy it. If I’m off studying in the library and don’t want to be bothered, I don’t have to be — no one can call me! You know how in movies (like say, Love Actually) when there’s a really great scene going on and the girl’s just about to get the guy, or a secret is just about to be revealed, but then someone’s phone goes off …? Nope, doesn’t happen to me. It’s a type of freedom I really love.

Grinnell is great in this way — you really can live without technology if you want to. There are enough computer labs that you don’t need your own laptop, and I’ve just proven to you that you don’t need a phone. Computer labs are also a great way to meet other people on campus who live in your general vicinity. When you’re in a room together for three hours, both desperately trying to understand an assignment or finish a paper on time, you learn a lot about each other. Like personal stress relievers. My personal favorite is YouTube surfing while eating vanilla pudding. Or making hats out of the printer paper.

One last word of advice: if you do choose to buy a laptop, don’t make the same mistake I did. Buy one that’s actually portable and isn’t heavy enough to crush your vitals if you rest it on your stomach to watch a movie while you’re sick.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major from Madison, Wisconsin.

That Swing Thing

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


A tall, smartly dressed man with slicked-back hair and gray suspenders slides up to me, hand outstretched. I smile and place my hand in his, accepting his silent offer. He walks me out to the middle of the dance floor, and we connect, his arm around my back, my hand on his shoulder. The music pulses playfully as a familiar Duke tune begins, and we start rocking in place to get a sense of one another. Then the saxes gear up for the A section, he spins me out, and suddenly I’m dancing.

Three years ago, when I walked in the Forum South Lounge, my gait was that of a timid first-year. Rain streamed down the tinted windows, and all around students were shaking off the heavy drops of the late summer shower. Driven inside by the rain, the Student Activities Fair was a hubbub of activity in a space far too small for its demands. Tables were lined up with military efficiency, and students pushed through the crush to place their names on e-mail lists.

It was not until the very end at one of the last tables that I saw them. Two people danced to the fast beat of a song played on a tiny stereo. The man, a few inches shorter than his partner, quick-stepped the rhythm as he spun her around. The pair laughed at what I could only assume was a mistake, but I couldn’t tell. My naïve eye only knew this was amazing to watch.

I have secretly wanted to dance my entire life. However, I never told my parents I wanted to take swing-dancing lessons, and I had never had the opportunity until I left home for Grinnell. That day at the Student Activities Fair, I finally found my chance. The next Monday I showed up for class in Loose Lounge, where the floor space was packed with eager first-years all waiting for the teachers to unlock the secret to looking amazing on the dance floor. Yet the swing lesson confirmed only that I had never danced before, and I was pitiful at it.

For some reason, though, I decided to come back again the next week. Slowly I improved, practicing in the hallway of my dorm with Matt Scharr ’08 from upstairs, who was as excited to learn as I was. The two of us rapidly progressed, fueled by our enthusiasm. After a few months, I became more and more comfortable with calling myself a dancer.

Along the way that first year, my teacher taught me the most important lesson I have learned while dancing: in order to dance well, you need to dance with your partner. It was a puzzling statement to me at the time. I turned it over and over in my mind, trying to understand what I recognized was wisdom, but yet could not fully comprehend.

It wasn’t until I was at a workshop in Chicago that I finally came to understand the idea of dancing with someone. Swing dancing is a reactionary dance, one that can’t be learned simply by going through the steps. It has an organic quality that makes each dance as individual as the people who dance it. Famously, dancers at the grand Savoy Ballroom during swing’s golden years wanted to know one thing only: can you dance? They didn’t care about what people on the outside saw — things like race, status, or income were (and are) all irrelevant to dancing.

The founders of swing had it right. Nothing external matters. Instead, it’s about how you and your partner build mutual respect for one another in those first few bars of music, and how you come to understand the individuality of one another’s dancing, that really matters.

Recently Grinnell hosted its first Swing Exchange, where dancers from all over the Midwest came to campus to enjoy a weekend of dancing to live swing and blues bands. The participants represented a wide range of skill levels, from the very basic beginner to competition winners. Dancers from various backgrounds came, as well with people dancing Lindy, East Coast, Charleston, Blues, or Balboa. A few people even grooved in the back of the room to their own made-up steps. Regardless of their level or style, people standing up together and dancing with one another filled the floor.

The last bars of “Take the A Train” fade from the speakers and my partner with the slicked-back hair dips me almost to the floor one last time. Then he lifts me upright, and we walk off the floor together, knowing we share a mutual respect because, at least while dancing, we understand each other.

Julia Bottles '08 is a History major from San Marino, California.

Take Back the Night

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Take Back the Night is an event focused on collectively speaking out against — amongst many other social problems — rape, sexual violence, domestic violence, violence against children, and violence against women. Across the country, Take Back the Night rallies are made up of candlelight vigils, empowerment marches, and sexual assault survivor testimonials, as well as other forms of solidarity and protest.

The event’s diverse political origins are reflected in the coalition of Grinnell College organizations that help sponsor it. This year, they included the Feminist Action Coalition, the Stonewall Coalition, and the gender and women’s studies concentration. The organizers planned a week of activities to inform the student body and Grinnell community at large about the realities of sexual assault and violence on and off college campuses. “Take Back the Night Week” was composed of various presentations, such as one sponsored by Domestic Violence Alternatives/ Sexual Assault Center (DVA/ SAC) about intimate partner violence, a talk by sociology professor Betsy Erbaugh on domestic partner violence in the queer community, and a multimedia performance by the nonprofit organization The Long Walk Home, titled “SOARS: Stories Of A Rape Survivor.”

Grinnell students also decorated the Rosenfield Center with life-size human cutouts telling anonymous stories of rape and sexual assault. We also participated in the Clothesline Project, in which white T-shirts were used to write statistics and stories of assault, and then hung from a clothesline for all to see. The Clothesline Project also served as a symbolic gesture to the roots of Take Back the Night in the early feminist movement.

The week culminated with a testimonial circle of students sharing stories of sexual assault and rape with others, followed by a passionate march around campus with chants such as, “Two, four, six, eight: we won’t be raped, we won’t be beat,” and “Mother, daughter, sister, friend, help make the night safe again,” filling the air. The goal of Take Back the Night is to raise awareness about the realities of sexual assault and rape in the world around us, and to let the community know that there are venues and opportunities to be informed and supported when necessary. The energy of Take Back the Night week will hopefully resonate on our campus until next year, when we will again rally and march against fear in hopes of making the night truly safe once again.

Timothy Hederman '10 is a Philosophy major from Staten Island, New York.

Blue Iowa

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


With more than 100 students crowded around the television, mouths dropping open, eyes fixated on the single small screen, one would imagine we were watching the Super Bowl or the season finale of House or Lost, not two men vying to be the next president of the United States.

I realized that although I had graduated from a high school where my peers were largely apathetic about politics, at Grinnell students truly cared. It was clear, from the immense amount of time students spent to get out the vote to the popularity of debate-watching parties. Not only did they care, but also they were ready to make a tangible change. Not all students agree about political issues, of course, and while my story has a definite blue tinge, the high level of commitment holds true for Grinnellians of all stripes.

The change started with each individual vote. With more than 900 Grinnell students registered to vote in Iowa, we had the power to literally make the difference in the local representative race between incumbent Eric Palmer and Danny Carroll. Grinnell immersed itself in Iowa politics; a fellow student managed Palmer’s campaign and another recent alum headed up the local democratic chapter for Obama.

Under the leadership of both these campaign managers as well as the heads of the Campus Democrats, dozens of us went dorm-to-dorm and door-to-door getting out the vote. Even Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore showed up on campus to help. Getting out the vote, I met not only celebrities, but also a significant portion of the student body and several townspeople.

Being from a big city, I found it enlightening to get to know the small community of Grinnell. I was able to learn about the issues that were important to the townspeople and even meet several local politicians, including the governor of Iowa. From this experience, I started to see not only the College, but also the town as my home too.

Nov. 4, 2008, had seemed forever a part of the distant future, yet all of a sudden, it was here. One word would describe election night: crazy. Most of the student body was gathered around television sets, with as many as could fit jammed into the student center watching the results on a large screen.

With the announcement of Obama’s win came an eruption of emotion. Cheers echoed around campus as we ran around hugging our friends and set off fireworks, simply giddy with happiness.

The emotions deepened as the true implication of what had just happened began to sink in. As we crowded around the televisions again to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, I looked around to see tears running down my friends’ faces. We clutched each other, hardly comprehending our new reality.

For those of us who had been working on the campaigns, the night brought specific rewards. The two local counties we had been working in (Poweshiek and Jasper) went blue for Obama, and our local representative, Eric Palmer, won by more than 1,400 votes. Our work truly had paid off.

Whether through politics, or through social justice, or campus government, students at Grinnell truly care about the world around them and they take significant steps to try and change it for the better.

Erica Seltzer-Schultz ’12 is undeclared and from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Floored by Read Second

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Sometimes in college residence halls, there are floors so great their inhabitants are designated by floor name. My first year, there were “those kids from Loose Second.” The next year, it was “those kids from D First.” I was always sort of mystified. How could people who had seemingly nothing but geography in common become so close?

Then, in my senior year, I moved to Read Second.

Read Second is a magical place. Representing all four classes (although heavy on the seniors), the floor includes people from all over the country (and out of it), with majors ranging from chemistry to studio art. It is without a doubt my favorite place on campus. All the inhabitants are so relaxed and amusing, and we can get pretty silly at times. I’ve seen people chased up and down the hallway by someone waving a stinky air freshener. Other times, people leave leftover food from their dining hall sack lunches on the table down the hall so hungry floormates can enjoy it. On any given day, there are usually cookies or apples or mini carrots waiting to pick up the spirits of some poor ravenous paper-writer in the middle of a late night of homework.

One night, we had a huge floor get-together and ate pizza while making collages on the walls. Someone had salvaged a stack of 40-year-old Smithsonian Magazines about to be thrown away. We had incredible photos to choose from. The walls look amazing now. Everyone who comes on the floor now gets the collage gallery tour. My favorite is the wall of fictional Read Second alumni, which includes Albert Einstein, Lord Byron, Ashton Kutcher, a baby howler monkey, and a man wearing a squid on his head.

Of course, Read Second can foster seriousness as well. I’ve always had trouble studying in my room, because I tend to distract myself too well (just five minutes to check my e-mail turns into an hour on the Internet). But now, we have homework parties. Throughout the night people drift into one room or another and settle down to study. Whether it’s my room or someone else’s, it isn’t unusual to walk onto the floor and see eight people crammed into one room, hunched over their books and physics problem sets. I wouldn’t exactly say it makes homework fun, but it does make the experience less painful. Periodically, someone will ask the definition of a word or point out something cool in his or her reading, and we get distracted and start chatting. It usually doesn’t last too long, and we all settle in again. These study parties create a nice atmosphere. and we’ve started attracting people from other floors because of it. I have friends who will trek across campus — sometimes even from off-campus — just to do homework with us. And who can blame them? Sometimes there are snacks!

I love living on a floor where I know everyone and I love being surrounded by my friends. It makes the entire dorm feel like home, instead of just my room. Having a single is nice, and I certainly don’t want to go back to sharing the mirror with a roommate every morning, but it can get lonely. With a floor like this, it’s the perfect balance of friendly faces and personal space. Want to procrastinate? Wander down to a friend’s room. Want to focus? Close the door and write that paper. It’s the best of both worlds. Which is why Read is the best dorm on campus, and no one will convince me otherwise.

Elizabeth Bologna '08 is an English and History major from Fairfield, Connecticut.

Furry Little Friends

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


While most colleges have some sort of mascot, a select few have unofficial ones that are even more popular amongst the student body. Here at Grinnell College, our unofficial mascot is unmistakably the squirrel.

Hang on. A squirrel?

It seems a bit odd at first. Why would we adopt a common, medium-sized rodent as an unofficial icon at a top-notch liberal arts institution? I admit I was a bit puzzled myself when I learned about the importance of squirrels to Grinnell College student life.

However, over time, I learned that the answer was pretty simple: it’s because we love them.

Believe it or not, our squirrels are incredibly smart and, I believe, different from other squirrels. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a subspecies of Grinnell squirrels, Sciurus grinnelli. Perhaps they’re the result of a secret Noyce science lab experiment gone wrong … or right.

Squirrels have become an integral part of the Grinnell College culture, providing us with constant entertainment. They’re always around, foraging for food on the lawn or chasing each other about to an endless arrangement of squeaks and squawks. You’ll hear them gnawing on nuts in the tree and you’ll see them standing on their hind legs as you walk by. They probably think you possess something for them to eat. It’s not uncommon to see human-squirrel interaction on campus, especially if food is involved. Sometimes it’s student-initiated, but other times it’s squirrel-initiated. Sometimes, it’s a friendly meeting. Other times, it can get pretty aggressive.

I’ve encountered squirrels foraging around in the garbage cans several times, each with its own end result. The first squirrel popped its little head out of the trash and just sniffed in my general direction as I walked by. The second squirrel jumped out to run away. The third squirrel, however, was so hungry, it decided to launch itself toward my face. I couldn’t blame the poor creature — after all, it was in the middle of a freezing winter. However, I was slightly offended that a squirrel would confuse me for a piece of bread.

Apart from my mix of casual and frightening experiences, I’ve also heard others speak of amusing squirrel moments. Last spring, one of my friends gave a squirrel a sugar cookie from his Outtakes (a sort of cafeteria-made sack lunch). The squirrel went crazy, almost like a cat on catnip. Barely able to control itself, it became very jumpy and knocked its head against the tree several times in an apparent sugar high. While it was hilarious, I wouldn’t suggest giving our squirrels any more sugar. Some of them have acquired a ridiculous weight and size; I’m sure they could take down a chihuahua.

Our squirrels help enhance the Grinnell College experience (they’re like members of our student body, only with a bushy tail). It’s another one of those small elements that help characterize the Grinnell environment. Without them, a piece of the puzzle would be missing. Our furry little friends are here to add some amusement into our lives, whether it’s a meeting while walking across campus or outside the window while you’re studying.

That, and they’re always there to share half of your sandwich.

People Watching and Study Buddies

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


I’m a person who is very set in my habits. I get out of bed at the same time every single morning and try to go to bed at the same time every night. I go to the library pretty much every night at pretty much the same time. I have sat at the same desk in the library since the beginning of my first year. That means this relationship has lasted a full five semesters, going on a sixth — a period of time substantially longer than any relationship I’ve ever had with a boy.

When it comes to doing homework, I will never get anything done unless I follow this same routine. However, on the rare occasion that I get to the library at 8:30 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., somebody may have already taken my seat. Tonight is one of those nights. That’s why I’m writing this article instead of running the Markov Chain simulation I’m supposed to be doing (don’t worry, I don’t really know what that means either).

I guess I can’t really blame anybody for taking my seat — it has a great view! I can see most of the second floor, and since it’s right in front of the huge windows above the entrance, I can watch everyone walking in. I would guess that throughout my time here I have witnessed the majority of Grinnell’s students enter the library. I like to watch them. And note the time of their entrance and exit … and their clothing … current level of apparent stress. And other interesting things like that.

At nighttime, it’s a little harder to see through the windows, but that’s OK, because thanks to their glorious reflections, I can see everything behind me without allowing my creepiness to be obvious. I have secretly witnessed a countless number of quick kisses sneaked in between the stacks. Peoplewatching is a crucial aspect of my study routine, and while it might seem counterproductive, I would never finish my work if I didn’t have interesting things to watch while pondering the next step of that algorithm I’m trying to figure out. But I assure you, not every student’s study habits involve stalker-like tendencies. It seems that every Grinnellian has his or her own study quirk to help manage the demanding workload.

Lots of people are very peculiar about the noise levels around them. Music may be necessary to focus, or it might be a source of great distraction. Others need a constant background drone — I’ve heard that Bob’s Underground is the only location on campus where the white noise is absolutely perfect. Some people have weird eating habits. A large percentage of the school population sucks down their caffeinated drink of choice before every study session, while others claim to stay away from coffee at all costs. Some need a very specific snack before they begin studying and become irritated when The Spencer Grill is out of stock, much in the same way I’m annoyed when I lose my favorite study seat.

I have some friends whose routine is not having a routine. If they’re not being productive enough, it must be due to their current locale, and so it’s time to find a new spot. A long paper may result in five or more of these location switches. There are both the social studiers, who complete every assignment with their best study buddy from class, and those who can’t think with someone else in their ear. They try to tolerate these sessions until they can steal away with a clear mind.

And so it seems that perhaps the study habits of Grinnellians are about as diverse as the people I see walk into the library every day. While coming to Grinnell may seem daunting as a new student, I guarantee you will soon find your niche, whether it be for socializing, studying, or in my case, innocent stalking.

Cassie Sims '08 is a Computer Science major from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


My armpits dripped with the stinkiest of all sweats: that of the “I’m-really-stressedout” variety. My heart raced, and I struggled in vain to fight back tears. Here I was, the day before Thanksgiving break during first year, intent on finishing a paper due the next day. My pink and purple folder containing all the meticulously edited drafts of said paper had gone missing.

I cried. I swore. I threw my lobster-shaped pillow across the room. Finally, as it dawned on me that taking my frustration out on my bedfellows was not very productive, I called my friends Calvin and Boyer for help. They came over, dried my tears, and searched all around campus with me until we finally located the folder, tossed lazily on the floor outside the dining hall, below the coat hooks.

Looking back three years later, I’m reminded of what a strong support network I have at Grinnell. During every rough patch, big or small, I’ve always had a swarm of Grinnellians to provide a sympathetic ear, a kind heart, and a limitless supply of hugs. However, I didn’t realize just how remarkable of a community Grinnell was until something tragic actually did happen, something whose seriousness greatly surpassed that of a misplaced folder.

On Thursday, December 13, 2007, around 8 p.m., like many Grinnellians the week before finals, I was sitting on a couch, laptop situated firmly on my lap, feverishly typing away at one of the many papers I had due over the course of the coming week. Then I received The Call from my mom. She had been walking laps with my dad at the Orland Park Sportsplex when he went down. And that was that. My dad had died.

I do not wish to describe the immense shock that swam over me, or the grief that still clouds my thoughts and daily activities. Rather, I would like to focus on how much my fellow Grinnellians have reached out and supported me in so many ways, making these difficult times infinitely better.

Within 20 minutes of the ill-fated phone call, my good friend Charlie was at my side. Soon after, my friends Meredith, Liz, and Henry joined us on the couch for an evening of handholding, hair-stroking, and everything-will-be-all-righting. I fell asleep in the arms of Mer and Liz.

When I awoke the next morning, two other friends, Ben and Sarah, were waiting for me downstairs, bearing organic chocolate bars from the bookstore and giant hugs. Later, Colette showed up with a delicious veggie wrap from Comeback Café for lunch. As the hours passed, more and more people kept dropping in: running buddies, neighbors, classmates, my cross country coach. Although the mood was somber, being surrounded by all these caring people made it feel almost like a house party in the middle of a Friday afternoon. I was the guest of honor, blubbering in my bathrobe, but letting myself be distracted and entertained by the amazing group of people gathered in my living room.

And although the wake and funeral services took place the weekend before finals, two friends (and one alum) made the four-hour trek from Grinnell to my Chicago suburb to attend. Not only did they bring their loving presences, but they also brought an enormous care package of cards, letters, cookies, and even a jar of a homemade tomato-based substance from Grinnellians back at school. The tomato-y jar actually brought some much needed humor to the afternoon as it allowed me to sit around for quite some time with my aunts and cousins debating whether the jar contained salsa or soup. (I found out later it was salsa. And it was delicious.)

The loving gestures continued to reach me even from afar. My housemates and I had been planning a holiday party to hold as a finals week study break, but due to my extenuating circumstances, I was unable to attend. In my absence, Meredith lit a candle at the party in memory of my father. She also provided all the guests with scraps of paper for them to write me notes of love, encouragement, and strength. When I returned to campus a few days later in order to retrieve the rest of my belongings for winter break, I was greeted with all these wonderful messages.

It’s been a rough couple of months, to say the least, but I am grateful I have so many amazing people in my life to remind me of all the good in the world. My dad once told me, “Erin, we only get so many moments like this.” Now I understand more than ever how right he was.

Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.