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Authentic Eagles: Ellen Gerst on Being Alone

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Ellen Gerst, MCAS '20

Boston College is all about community. Join as many clubs as you can to find your community. Go on a service trip and serve that community. Newton Campus builds such a strong sense of community

And I buy into a lot of it. I joined probably 13 clubs my freshman fall, trying desperately to find people who would make this creepy collection of church-ish buildings feel like home. And I’ll defend Newton until my final breath. 

But looking back at the last four years, I spent most of my time alone. I spent too many late nights on the first floor of O’Neill, grinding out papers alone. Eating alone in Lower or Stuart with my laptop open to at least look busy. And add up all the minutes I spent walking to class, taking the Newton bus, or commuting, alone, on the T and you get a lot of alone time. 

“I like being by myself!” I remember telling my friend Kelly. “I’m fun! Why would I not like to hang out with myself?”

As the years passed, I liked who I was becoming more and more. I was learning more about the world, finding an actual purpose beyond just getting a job after college, and realizing I could choose to spend my time doing almost exclusively things I loved with people I loved. 

Then the news hit that we all had to go home, and all that peaceful, reflective alone time was the farthest thing from my mind. I spent five straight days surrounded by hundreds of people, and whether I knew them all or not didn’t matter. We had community, for Christ’s sake!

The true gravity of the situation didn’t hit me until late-late Saturday night, really the wee hours of Sunday morning. Around 3:30 a.m., I peeled myself off the Mod couch I’d sunk into and headed back to Iggy to eat something and take a nap before the sunrise. I walked, alone, through the Mod lot and up that sneaky-steep hill, processing what was about to happen. The next day, I would be saying goodbye to my best friends and moving off campus forever. I had known it was coming, but all the people around me were great distractions from the crippling sense of loss and pain at the suddenness of it all. There, in the Iggy elevator, I cried. Alone.

I’m realizing that I didn’t leave Boston College with a diploma. I didn’t even get to walk across the stage at graduation, but for some reason, I just don’t care that much. I think I’ve been celebrating my time at BC for a long time.

My Boston College canon includes Kierkegaard and Foucault, but it also includes Mamma Mia 2, “Yes Indeed” by Lil’ Baby, and the entire discography of Billy Joel. I’ve had lengthy discussions about political messaging in Netflix’s Boss Baby spinoff show, listened to “Closer” by The Chainsmokers an ungodly number of times, and hosted podcast episodes about “Chopped” and Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The shows I saw at Great Scott, the lunch breaks I spent wandering around some obscure corner of the MFA, all the movies I saw at Coolidge Corner (with popcorn with REAL BUTTER!). Those flyers in Mac that talk about brain currency and other realms and AlphaGo and look like an AI ingested 2,000 copies of TigerBeat and spit out an FAQ page on simulation theory. Even the tags scribbled in Sharpie on the walk from campus to the Reservoir T stop — WORLDBROKE, Kelpo, Uglyboy — are artworks in my canon, etched into my brain forever. 

These are how I’ll remember Boston College. I can’t explain why these things are so special to me, but I think it’s because they’re all tied to some experience, some person, or some routine that I fell in love with at BC. They remind me of Kristina, the smartest person I know, dissecting the dialogue in an animated show about feuding babies and cats. When I hear Drake’s verse I can see PCarp sitting in the Gavel office’s fluorescent lighting, rapping along. I can feel the stuffiness of the Carney basement and hear the feedback from a too-loud laugh during a recording session. 

Now that I’m not on campus anymore, that feeling of being alone is much more familiar. I was prepared to drift a little after graduation, but right now I feel like I’m out at sea on a pool noodle. I have no idea where I’ll be in a couple of months, what I’ll be doing (hopefully a job), or who I’ll be with.

But I’ll be right there, at my side. Boston College taught me community, and it gave me enough of it to last a lifetime — which, at this rate, it may have to. In the middle of that community, however, I got to know myself a lot better. I bought into it, you know, all that reflection and meditation on purpose. Maybe that makes me a sap. Maybe that’s lame and I fell right into the Jesuits’ trap. 

But I don’t have to care what you think. I like myself!

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