Stress accompanies going off to college

Stress accompanies going off to college                      

Millions of young men and women have now completed two months of college, some have exprienced so much stress.

Two months of several hundred graduates of Rabun County High, Rabun Gap Nacoochee, and Tallulah Falls School will head off to college with the usual anxieties that surround us as we start new ventures in life.  Helping recent high school graduates overcome the stress of entering college is important.

I learned a wonderful story about one such woman who entered Williams College 40 years ago. It gave me reason to appreciate my alma mater.  I learned this from my classmate, Dan Rankin. It is the story of Martha Williamson who was accepted for admission to the college in the spring of 1973.  She had never visited Williams. She made the long trip from Denver.  After a tiring flight to Boston and a four-and-a-half hour bus ride she found herself the last passenger on a Greyhound bus which dropped her at the corner of Spring Street and Route 2 in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  It was 10:45 at night, pitch black, and she was completely and utterly alone.  Here is the rest of the story in her words.

“I looked around for signs of life and wished I hadn’t had the great idea of arriving a few days early to look around.  It must have been an overcast night; the campus was very still and gave no sense of its beauty and history — the Chapel and the Congregational Church were strangers to me, deep and intimidating shadows.  Only one light seemed to burn in town that night and I left my impossibly heavy suitcase on the sidewalk and headed toward the darkest, least-inviting building of all to see who was there in Hopkins Hall.  

I walked up the well-worn steps, and was surprised to find the door unlocked, walked in and called out, ‘Hello? Hello?  A very pleasant man who I took to be a janitor stepped into the hall and introduced himself as John.  I told him I was looking for Sage D in the Freshman Quad and could I take a cab there?  He smiled and asked me where my suitcase was.  As we walked across the campus John gave me a midnight tour.  I recall catching my breath as we turned the corner towards Baxter Hall and I saw at the end of a great expanse the facade of Chapin Hall.  I was too tired and disoriented to express anything but absolute amazement at the beauty of such a place.  I was walking through a dream and I was finally a little frightened.  

I think John sensed that and he commented on my courage to get on a plane and start a new life in a completely strange place.  I thanked him for his kindness as he and my Samsonite rounded the last staircase to the fourth floor of Sage.  ‘You know, Martha,’ he remarked, ‘we’ve got something in common. I’m sort of a freshman myself.  This is my first year in a new job.  I don’t think we ever stop getting excited and a little afraid of starting something new.  The important thing is to keep starting.’  

And with that President John Chandler wished me goodnight and walked down the stairs.”  

What a remarkable story.  Forty years later Martha still has great appreciation for the first friend she ever made at Williams College.  In my classmate, Dan Rankin’s book, this image of a modest college president guiding a new student across the campus and carrying her suitcase up the four flights of Sage hall was emblematic of Williams College. 

May each of you heading off from Rabun County to colleges across the land be blessed by people who will lend a hand as you enter your new life.

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH

Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics

Emory University School of Medicine

Atlanta, GA