The School of Rock
In its fifth annual future alumni essay contest the Magazine invited graduating fourth-years to reflect on the College experience. Amy Lasater won the $500 prize with a little help from her friends.
It is 2:15 in the morning, and I am studying with the Section Three boys. Adi has just made an unspeakably obscene comment about Seren. Seren pretends to be upset and then responds in kind while Andrew yells something completely incomprehensible. Then all three of them collapse into a shouted debate about their relative abilities in the fields of women and schoolwork. They are very, very loud. They are so loud that everyone who passes our cubicle peers inside and gives them a glare that is equal parts confusion, ire, and exhaustion.
I exchange bemused looks with George and then shrink into my seat and pretend to concentrate on my book so that no one who passes will mistake me for the source of the noise. We are, after all, in the Library, and I feel some amount of respect should be maintained for the sake of the poor econ majors next to us, trying to finish a problem set.
It is hard to remember a time when going to the Library didn’t mean subjecting myself to these exaggerated displays of masculinity, but it must have existed. I met my study companions when I was their orientation aide in Hitchcock, a time when I maintained a strict separation between dorm life and school life. School life involved daily trips to the Reg, where I would sit by myself, convinced that intellectual happiness would eventually be found in isolation, drinking coffee and checking things off lists.
But before going to the Library I usually stopped by Section Three in the dorm to visit the first-years who lived there. When they were around they tended to be around in groups. They would greet me with shouts of “AAIMMEEEEE” and then proceed to steal my coat and demand that I dance for them. Or they would remove their shirts to ask if I thought their communal sit-up regimen had given them collectively better abs. I would laugh and listen to their wild stories of prospective world domination while attempting to get my coat down from where they had affixed it to the ceiling. And then I would go. For some reason it had never occurred to me that the boys of Section Three could be in the Library when I was.
One night when I was thoroughly removed from the rest of the world, diligently taking notes on Durkheim, I realized that a familiar and distinctive conversation was going on to my right. I peered over the cloth dividers that separate the group-study spaces on the A level and found myself looking at Adi and Seren, who were cackling at each other over their laptops, surrounded by coffee beverages and corn chips.
“Oh my God! Amy! Get over here!”
“No, guys, I don’t think I can. I mean, I have a lot of work—”
“Amy. Stop being a little—”
“Oh, come on. We’ll be quiet. Really. Look. We have chips.”
“I don’t know. I have to read all of this.” I held up the book for them to see.
“Dude. I’m writing a whole paper before 10:30. Get over here.”
So I moved to the other side of the partition and into a world where studying and the ability “to rock!” are one and the same. For my Section Three friends, the Library was a different place from the bastion of studious quiet I had made it out to be. To them it was a place where their abilities in any sphere of life—from rhetoric to mathematics to sculpting biceps—could be conflated with masculinity and, if done well, described as “rocking.”
I could never fully participate in this endeavor and instead watched in fascination. The boys of Section Three traveled to the Library in packs. They noisily related passages of their reading to each other and discussed plans to defeat the authors variously through intellectual prowess and ninja skills. They made obscure Big Lebowski references. They could turn studying into a metaphor for capturing the affections of French models or for defeating evil warriors through Brazilian jujitsu. For a long time it was something I brushed off as boyish impetuousness as I hid my smile behind a book.
The next year, when I returned from autumn quarter in Rome and realized that the first thing I wanted to do was study with the Section Three boys (by then a completely inaccurate name), I recognized that perhaps I was being a hypocrite. When I moved to an apartment but found myself walking in the cold three or four nights a week to “work” at the Reg, I started to accept that my silent study methods had now become completely subsumed by the boys’ boisterous ones. But maybe it’s only now, when I am fighting the ennui of senior year and trying to make myself work, that I realize the power of being with Section Three in the Library. I often find myself sitting on the A level with them, and each night I have a similar experience. Around 2:15 a.m. they always seem to erupt into a cacophony of shouting and laughter, and part of me always wants to stand up and apologize to anyone who actually needs to concentrate.
But part of me also wants to make sure everyone has a Section Three. These are the people who remind me that I came to this school to study. And they remind me, of course, that that’s not why I’m here at all. Most important, they remind me that studying is never what it seems, that succeeding intellectually and succeeding at anything else are not such different things, and that fun can exist even in a place like the A level. I will have to remember these lessons as I try to learn how to rock without the help of Section Three.
Amy Lasater, ’05, came to Chicago from South Bend, Indiana. After graduation in June, the anthropology major (Spanish minor) plans to make use of her liberal-arts education in some as-yet-undecided manner.