There’s a growing stack of college viewbooks on my desk, and every single one of them is so gorgeous that I am convinced that I would love living in states that I’ve never even thought about. I’m pretty sure my problem is sunsets, because pretty much every college viewbook ends with a picture of the sun setting behind an impressive-looking building. I love sunsets. And the thing is, sunsets look more or less the same no matter where they are, so some part of my brain ends up deciding that other states are just as pretty as mine. (To be totally fair, they probably are.) The pictures of smiling students have exactly the same effect.The people look like people who could go to my school, and so the college seems less different—welcoming, even.
Homogeneity is comfortable, unsettlingly so. College has always been something I’ve looked forwards to as a chance to try new things and to live in a new place; it’s supposed to be fresh and exciting and different, but the viewbooks look a little bit like home already does.
Maybe it’s because on the surface, “here” and “somewhere else” aren’t so different from each other. Everyone breathes the same air and sees the same sky, regardless of where they are. Grass is still grass in New York or in California.
The magic of places is hard to pin down because it’s so intangible. Even the tangibles—like statues or monuments—are only as magical as the things associated with them. The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty certainly contribute to the magic of New York City, but take those things and put them in Kansas and not only is Kansas no more magical than it was before, but the building and the statue lack some of the power they had in New York. The place helps make the tangibles magical, and the tangibles help make the place magical.
It’s the combination of people and things and history that have the most magic. There are strings attached to everything, and it’s kind of cool to picture the world and all of its places as attached, however indirectly, by strands of histories past. The world is wrapped up in fragments of history and memory—that’s what makes places magical, even though they might look similar on the surface.
The viewbooks are beautiful. Maybe they look a little bit like home, but what I always forget is that viewbook photos don’t include the layers that really make a college magical. That’s the newness that I’m looking for; I just wish it could be photographed.