It’s 1:30 p.m., I’m 19 years old, I’ve just completed my first year of college, and I’m sitting in a circle of cramped, wooden desks. It’s summer and the sun drifts lazily through the windows. This is my former 200-level history classroom, but for now the walls are covered with poster paper. Bright Crayola markers have diagrammed story arcs, written archaic poetry references, and listed nostalgic childhood items. And while the classroom is strange, it’s the students that are stranger. They’re 16- and 17-year olds. Wide-eyed, jittery, and fresh.
On a normal day, I’d be napping at 1:30 p.m. As a Resident Advisor for the Kenyon Review Young Writers, my days are busiest at night. I plan and host student activities, help them edit their writing, and even find lost keys. More importantly, I’m just there for my residents: for their questions about college life and searching for their voice. Sometimes I’m just there to braid their hair.
Right now, though, I’m living the life of a real Young Writer by attending this class. I’m leaning over the small desk attached to my chair. It’s only large enough for my notebook, but I scribble away and listen to the pens scratching paper. The students around me are quick, flipping pages. I’m still on page 1.
Now we get to share. I’m hesitant to raise my hand, but they speak without apprehension. I think of my residents asking me about how to use the dining hall and what places on campus are “cool” to hang out in. Their hesitancy does not translate to this classroom. Surrounded by people who want to write and read as much as they do, these high-schoolers refuse to be afraid. They are clear and bright. They take leaps not because it’s expected of them, but because they feel compelled to do so. I’m swept in by the Young Writers in my class who put their entire selves into their work.
We write about where we’re from and what we wish we could be. I’m struck by the patience of our instructor, her ability to weave tales, her talent in taking the work we read and translating it into fodder for our own written words. I’m struck by the students, eager to participate, to think long and hard. I’m struck by the honesty flowing through the classroom. And I think that, despite just finishing my first year of college and having a small taste of adulthood… at this moment, I envy these 16-year olds.
That hour-and-a-half class session is only a peek into what Young Writers is. It’s a chance to take writing seriously. It’s a chance to take yourself seriously. It’s where I laugh with my residents and where they bare their souls. It’s where instructors read your work carefully and critically. It’s where you sit in the residence halls, almost stuck to the couches it’s so hot, and read your writing out loud to newly-made friends. It’s where you read work you’ve never heard of, though the rest of your class has. It’s where I cheer on students as they stand in front of a crowd, clutching their notebook, reading steadily. It’s where you get two weeks to do only what you love. It’s where you come to write with writers for the sole purpose of writing. It’s where I wish I could go back to 16, to feel 16 and to write like I’m 16. And if you happen to be 16, it’s where you should be, too.