Having been nurtured on the drifting snows and subzero temperatures of Western Pennsylvania, I scoffed at the warnings about Iowa winters. Little did I realize that a mere couple of molehills stand between the hallowed streets of Grinnell and the maniacal winds of Northern Canada. They streak southward with a cold so intense that you can feel tiny icicles growing on your bones just looking out the window from a snugly heated room. Preparing for the brief walk from South Campus to ARH, we bundled ourselves into coats, mufflers, hats, mittens, and fleece-lined boots. I remember one morning the radio said we should avoid looking directly into the wind because our eyeballs would freeze. My advice to you: Be sure to leave for class five minutes early on those days. It will take you that long to strip off all those layers.
Prompt: Winters in Iowa can be brutal.
Iowa winters are no joke, and while everyone might tell you to spend time getting the right coat, my biggest piece of advice is to invest in practical footwear with excellent traction! I experienced a classic Grinnell blizzard right before finals, and in my attempt to get to my dorm to grab study materials, I slipped on the ice over the train tracks, breaking my arm instantly. Young, stubborn, and a little stupid, I took Advil, wrapped my arm in a towel, and went to bed. Since the health center wasn’t open until 9 a.m. the next day, I went to my 8 a.m. class before getting my official diagnosis and cast. Once home on winter break, my doctor gave me a very stern talk about my choice in weatherproof footwear.
My daughter included Grinnell in her college road trip only “to please the old man” in late summer 2007. After crossing into Iowa from the south Annie asked, “What’s with the flags on top of the fire hydrants?” “That’s so the firemen can find them in the snow.” Her eyes widened and I heard her think “OH MY GOD!”
People who had never seen snow screamed in Burling Library when the first flakes came down.
In Clark Hall we opened all the windows on the third floor and threw water into the hall so we could skate. There was terror when a freshman skated through the large window at the end of the hall and attempted to swing around on the fire escape pole but only flew into the darkness. A snowbank left him uninjured. Alcohol was involved.
I grew up in Illinois, not many miles further south than Grinnell. But as the winter of 1957–58 arrived my freshman year, it felt like there was nothing between ARH and the North Pole but miles of frozen tundra and biting winds. I finally called my parents to ask for money for a parka and winter cap. They agreed, but were surprised because in high school, I had never worn a cap or anything heavier than a light windbreaker.
Four Grinnell winters, however, turned out to be a kind of “boot camp” — good practice for what came next when, upon graduation, my wife and I moved to Minnesota, the nation's “ice box” state, where we have lived ever since, parkas and all. In short, Iowa winters proved to be just one more example of how Grinnell helped prepare me for life!
My freshman year, the day we left for Kansas City on holiday break coincided with a massive snowstorm. Four of us stuffed into a classmate’s VW Bug, which we soon learned had no heat. It took a perilous 2 1/2 hours to slide and crawl to Des Moines, where the snow slowed. The highway was covered and total whiteout conditions made it impossible to see, so we stuck as close as we dared to the car in front of us, following its tail lights to stay on the road. At one point we followed the car into a rest stop without even knowing we’d exited! Thankfully, we made it home safely.
After that harrowing trip, I was grateful to have my family’s trusty rusty Chevy Suburban for my final three years at Grinnell. I must have jump-started half the cars on campus one January when temperatures dipped below zero.
Prompt: Advice to your younger self about starting at Grinnell
Get ready to work harder than you have ever worked. That said, you don’t have to read every page of your assignments. No one will care what you majored in — only what you are passionate about. So, you should follow your passions and curiosities even if you don’t know how to make them academically relevant today. Make time to read for pleasure. Always ask why. Don’t worry if people like you; instead, ask if you like them. Savor and cherish your tutorial; it is an intellectual luxury you will not easily have the time for again. Push yourself to learn to write. Believe me, you are not a good enough writer yet. Use the Writing Lab. Fall in love. Stay up all night for Disco. Eat [a big cookie] daily. Write on the Burling bathroom walls.
1. Don’t accept advice from your older self.
2. But if you do … First, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Lots of them. In all areas. Painful as they are, mistakes will help you grow.
3. Be as kind and compassionate to others and yourself as possible.
4. Spend a year studying in a Spanish-speaking country. Regardless of your career, speaking Spanish will be super helpful.
5. Try to lay off the sugar. (I know, it’s still hard 34 years later.)
6. Realize your privilege as a straight, white, temporarily-abled middle-class male. Vow to resist systemic injustice in all its forms.
7. Play as much Frisbee® as you can. (This will come naturally.)
8. Take your work and the issues seriously, but yourself lightly. This will take lots of practice.
9. Don’t worry about making a lot of money. But earn enough to give back some, including to Grinnell.
• Go out and have fun with friends at weekends instead of learning and reviewing all day, because first, you deserve it, and second, you will find out moderate relaxation makes you more efficient.
• Join some conversations that are okay to join.
• Explore Grinnell; you will be surprised by what you find.
• Sign up for so many clubs that the inbox is crammed with emails you never open.
• Skip the gym day and reading materials.
• Feel incompetent at the beginning; it’s just a start and things will get better.
Prompt: Rename our “That’s So Grinnellian” photo essay
Prompt: Write a memoir in six words, no more, no less.
Nightly deep conversations in dorm hallways.