The Trials of the Young: A Semester

In 2014 I was hired, for two consecutive spring semesters, to teach writing and literature at one of the officially happiest colleges in America. The place was located in a beatific, temperate environment, with mountain views and imposing, elegant architecture; extraordinary foliage and trees burst from the very pavement, flowers were everywhere. There were outdoor swimming pools, conveniently placed grills and fountains, the latter to be drunkenly danced in on graduation or really whenever somebody felt like it. Upbeat music emitted from invisible speakers, wafting constantly across enormous athletic fields; artistic performances and lectures were available almost every day or night. The faculty were erudite, dedicated, and inspiringly strange. Students were receptive, hard-working, and very well-prepared; they were the best undergrads I had ever encountered. They were also, with few exceptions, remarkably easy-going. There was something intimidating about the opulence of the place, and also a little eerie; to me, that kind of apparent perfection invariably holds the secret of its inevitable ruin. I knew it was perverse to feel that way in the midst of a wonderful opportunity for which I was grateful — but I did feel that way, almost on arrival. The stark rectilinearity of the architecture, the Triumph of the Will plazas, the huge terraced terracotta buildings — if you aren’t used to that scale of things it is disorienting, especially if you are the only human walking the huge expanse between the huge structures. So, at the end of what turned out to be a lovely semester, when one of my favorite students, a kid from India named Chetan (not his real name; all names in this essay have been changed) caustically informed me that this was “the happiest college in America” and that it got on his nerves, I sincerely replied, “Yeah, I know

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