Senior Reflections: Keep Popping Those Kernels of Knowledge

Kaiya Carter ’19

Photo by Sarah Woods ’21

I’ve learned a lot of useless things at Davidson: how to work Pawprint, how long I can go without swiping to keep the oven on, how to craft an A- Moodle post with very little information, and which Commons door to push/pull (trick question: it switches. Maybe?). I’ve also learned some useful things at Davidson: how to budget, how to jump a car, how much alcohol I can drink in a semi-professional setting without embarrassing myself, and how to deal with ignorant white people.

The most important thing I’ve learned at Davidson, though, is that my best traits didn’t magically appear because of my “Ways of Knowing” credits or my team sports requirement. They have always been there; my time at Davidson simply made me more aware of them. Parents say that college is beneficial for a lot of things—getting a job, the pursuit of knowledge—and those things are true, but these four years have taught me, more than anything, that college is about self-discovery: what traits and skills you’ve always had, what things challenge you, scare you, surprise you, etc.

I’ve learned that I’ve always been good at empathizing, educating myself about others’ perspectives, being comic relief when a friend needs it, standing up for what I think is right, and so many other great things. I’ve also learned that I’m trash at math, a know-it-all, a gossip, stubborn as hell, and bad at expressing myself. I don’t like being told what to do, and I’m too lazy to lead a group unless no one else will.

Over the past four years, I’ve augmented my good traits and started working on my bad ones. When I look at pictures of myself from freshman year, I say, “Damn, I let myself walk around looking like that?” At the same time, I consider how similar yet different I am to that awkward freshman in the Ke$ha photo.

College doesn’t turn you into a totally new person; we all get here as unpopped kernels of popcorn, and leave as fluffy, tasty kernels with some of the shell still on. The fluffy bit was there all along, we just needed the right conditions to make it appear.

If I could change any one thing about Davidson, I would ask that it do more to encourage this sort of popcorn popping.

The College loves to say that it’s an environment where students constantly challenge and learn about themselves, but I don’t think that’s universal. There are people that leave this school as those barely-popped kernels that fall to the bottom of the bag. They are a little fluffy but leave you a little sad at the wasted potential.

Davidson makes it easy for some people to go through four or more years without much growth beyond the intellectual sort. Some of this is the stress; it’s hard to grow as a person when your professors are dead-set on working you to death, your immune system is shot, and you’re broke-all at the same time.

A larger part, I think, is how small this community can be. It’s easy to leave almost the same as you came when you’re surrounded by people that won’t challenge how you see yourself or others. I don’t mean to condemn people that don’t pop their kernel while they’re here; by senior year, we’re only 21 to 22, so we have the rest of our lives to figure our shit out.

I do mean to challenge both the students and the College to reflect on how much they’ve grown  while they’ve been here and how much they’ve encouraged others to do so. We don’t all have to make the same kind or amount of progress, but the tuition for this school alone makes it a damn shame if you haven’t figured out one of the great traits you were born with or the sucky parts of your kernel that haven’t quite popped yet.

Davidson owes to us, and we owe to ourselves, the chance to emerge from this stressful ass popcorn machine as moderate-to-good popcorn. Now that I’ve comprehensively exhausted my popcorn metaphor, I’d like to thank my friends: Vance, Tiny Tina, Chicken Annie, Ky, Gulie, Bri, Alexis, Madeleine/Bear the dog, and Allyson. Y’all saw something good in an especially awkward un-popped kernel, and I’m eternally grateful for your friendship. 

Kaiya Carter ’19 is an English major from Baltimore, Maryland. Contact her at kacarter@davidson.edu.

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