Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Experience Amherst before it’s too late

By Chris Shores

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Hannah Cohen/Collegian

In December, my independent capstone project brought me to the door of Amherst’s Jones Library for the first time.

I had gone there with hopes that the library – in particular its special collections section – would provide a good jumpstart to finding research subjects the coming semester. I left with answers, but also with something else: a gnawing feeling in my stomach.

As days passed, the feeling grew and a sad realization slowly slithered its way into my brain. I had never really gotten to know the town I have lived in for the past three-and-a-half years, and with one semester left, I was running out of time.

Here was a library with everything I could possibly want. There is a massive historical section with artifacts and old newspaper archives, a wide-ranging collection of music available for rental and quiet places to study that offer an escape from the occasional insanity that is the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. This could have been one of my go-to places during my collegiate career. Instead, I was making my first visit to this incredible library about three years too late.

Last semester seniors will undoubtedly always have some kind of similar feelings: the anxiety and stress that they won’t be able to fit in everything they want to do before the “best years of their lives” are snatched away from them. It’s impossible to do everything, of course, but it still hurts thinking about the awesome class that just couldn’t fit into the schedule. For the last three years, there was always “next year” to accomplish incomplete goals. But now, it’s 2012. It’s the end of the college world.

Let me be clear: when I graduate in May, I will leave this school fully satisfied at my college experience. I met great people, I took interesting classes and I was lucky enough to go on two weeklong trips to Sicily and Cuba. In my freshman year, I joined the Massachusetts Daily Collegian organization, and three years later, I practically live here – just ask my roommates.

By no means did I waste time isolated to the inner confines of a dorm room. But still, the gnawing feeling persists.

One of the problems of the University of Massachusetts is that it’s so easy to become trapped inside its giant bubble. Why waste time trekking into town to go to the Jones Library, when there is a giant library right in the middle of campus? And weekly trips to try out different restaurants are fun, but nowhere near as convenient as walking to that dining commons across the street.

In my first semester, I spent a lot of time in Amherst. It was all part of the typical freshman exploration period: there was food to eat at Judie’s and Crazy Noodles, movies to see at Amherst Cinema and Frisbees to throw on the Amherst Common.

But as class work added up and I became more invested in activities like the Collegian, that endless amount of free time from freshmen year magically disappeared. I developed a routine that allowed me to get my work done and have fun, but downtown Amherst was left – for the most part – forgotten.

It’s likely that many students have taken better advantage of the school’s close proximity to Amherst center. There are some who probably know every restaurant menu by heart and those who have been to all of its museums, the art galleries and the quirky shops.

I’ve made more of an effort in the past year to break out of the UMass bubble and spend more time downtown. That will continue this semester, and my capstone will allow me to film historical sites, interview local residents and discover more about this town’s past and present.

Still, I feel like it is too little too late; I will never get to experience the Town of Amherst as much as I could or should have. And while I’m well aware the town is not going anywhere, I don’t have plans to continue living here after graduation. The opportunity I had to fully explore my current town of residence is drawing to a close.

I am excited for the months to come and for my future at UMass. But I want there to be enough time for me to eat at Baku’s, the Lone Wolf, the Loose Goose Café and That’s A Wrap. I hope that there will still be a perfect sunny day when I can ride my bike down the Norwottuck Rail Trail and go for a swim at Puffer’s Pond. I want to buy a drink at Amherst Coffee and write a paper at the Jones Library – or next to a tree on Amherst Common – or some combination of the two.

I want to believe that when I graduate, I will know exactly what I’m leaving behind.

Chris Shores is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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