06/20/2012 12:03 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2012

"What Year?"


Sometimes it feels like I'm crashing their party. There are alumni here who haven't studied at The Rock in decades -- actual decades. Longer than I've been standing up and breathing.

Simon's Rock is all about breaking convention -- the way we walk out of high school sans diploma, the way we question the status quo. This weekend is no exception. It's not just a class reunion. Everybody comes. You get the feeling that people are not here simply to see old classmates. They're here to meet new ones. They're here to see professors. They're here to capture the weird feeling that you can only recognize if you've been here.

"What year?" somebody asks me.

I give my entering year, not wanting to expose myself as a current student. "2010." Another two to go!

"Oh, so you're a recent alum," the real alum says mildly.


I feel like the little kid who stays up late to spy on her parents' party -- not exactly invited, but not exactly forbidden.

We all browse limited edition T-shirts and tote bags. We eat goat cheese with them at the brunch reception. We pour over archive photos. At the formal dinner dance, I shuffle along to Michael Jackson, while some of them actually know all of the steps to "Thriller." In the evenings, we sit under the stars and let loose some very bad choruses of old Beatles songs as somebody accompanies us on the ukelele. I hear embarrassing stories about legendary people. A recent alum tells us about going on a rule-breaking adventure during her time here. Then, an older alums grin slyly and tells his own story -- an adventure that created the rule in the first place.

They come back to this place after seeing the real world, after obtaining careers and houses and children. They go to their mock classes, hug their favorite professors, and have those deep Simon's Rock discussions that they miss so much.

Everybody's on the same page. It's like they never left.

"You know, the more I come back," one alum remarks to me, "the more I'm convinced. You don't really get new people here. All Rockers are reincarnations, upgrades of other people who have already been here."

She was right. One photograph, on display at the archive reception, showed a group of kids hanging outside the Mods giving back massages -- just like my friends and I give back massages while studying at the library. A photo dated in the 1970s showed a tall boy wearing a pleasant smirk and a plaid shirt -- this past semester, I had a class with his exact doppelgänger. One photographed girl wears the same dress, horn-rimmed glasses, and thoughtful expression as somebody from my freshman dorm -- but the girl in the picture probably didn't see her outfit as "vintage."

It just reinforces the theory: You don't really leave this place. It sticks with you.

The thing about Simon's Rock reunions is that they are real reunions. This is not the awkward high school join-up where nobody remembers anybody's name, only the gossip about them. What's more, this is not even the uncomfortable family reunion where everybody spends all day trying to play some awkward rounds of Connect Four or Connect-The-Common-Ancestor.

It's true that many of these alums have never met before, but they're hardly strangers. And it's true that we all went to the same college, but that's not really what connects us.

"What year?" an alum asks me again.

This time, I confess: "I'm actually a current student. Sorry for crashing."

"What? No. You aren't crashing. It's impossible. You came here, you belong."

What we experience at Simon's Rock, we can't find anywhere else on the planet. This weekend is not about seeing old classmates. It's about being that person again, that fearless sixteen-year-old who walked out of high school to become an intellectual rebel. When you leave, that kind of fearlessness makes a mark on you. You've been a part of something fresh, something grand, that most of the world doesn't even know about.

You don't just come here for two to four years. When you're in, you're in for good.