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View From the Top: Tour guide talks

Published: November 4, 2011
Section: Features


When I arrived at Brandeis for my first semester, I had a number of immediate goals for myself. I wanted to pass my first chemistry exam, which I did. I wanted to keep the “freshman 15” off, which I did not (I blame proximity to Sherman and having Asia Wok on speed dial). I wanted to have people with whom to eat lunch from day one so that I wouldn’t be a lonely first-year, which Shapiro 1A supplied plentifully. And I wanted to become a tour guide.

I was always the kid in grade school whose report card perpetually contained a teacher comment mentioning my “consistent inability to stop talking when class is in session”—that’s a quote. My suite mates will certainly tell you that little has changed since those days and they’d probably be correct. I like to talk. After learning as a high school senior that someone can actually get paid to walk around campus while schmoozing with prospective students, it was a foregone conclusion that I would become a tour guide myself once I got to college. Sure enough, three weeks into my first semester, I marched down to Admissions to sign up (although back then, it was more like marched “down”—the office was still in the basement of Bernstein-Marcus while the spaceship new Admissions building was under construction).

Spending the majority of my time at Brandeis as a tour guide has, I think, given me a vantage point of this school that I would not likely have otherwise had. As students, we’re frequently so busy/overworked/so-tired-I-seriously-am-going-to-fall-asleep-in-the-middle-of-lecture-no-joke that we get a kind of tunnel vision, focused on our work and activities and not much else. This is certainly true for me around midterms—my roommate used to joke that he could tell when I had a major test or paper coming up just by how messy my side of the room was, since my propensity to forgo cleaning while I studied usually turned my desk into an area that would probably quality for FEMA disaster aid.

Working as a tour guide has meant, however, that, at least once per week, every week, for the last four years, I put down my pen and my notes for at least an hour to spend time with a visiting group of prospective students, excited at the idea of visiting colleges and curious about our school. Once a week, I set aside paper deadlines, chemistry recitations and theater rehearsal schedules and introduce students and their families to Brandeis for the first time. When I’m with visitors, I see Brandeis, not just through my own eyes, but through theirs—and, in the process, I’m brought back to my own first visit to Brandeis and the reasons I chose this school in the first place.

It’s so easy to take Brandeis for granted—the friendliness and sincerity of our student body, the accessibility and enthusiasm of our ridiculously accomplished professors, the sheer number of clubs and activities available to us despite our relatively small size.

Giving tours to prospective students has a knack for reminding me how special Brandeis is. Seeing the looks on my group’s faces when I casually mention the time Professor Katz sat down with me for an hour at the last minute to go over material on the upcoming behavioral neuroscience exam or how my USEM, which contained six students, was taught by the dean of arts and sciences reminds me that these are not “normal” occurrences in the grand scheme of things. Watching visitors react to the list of guest speakers coming to campus the next month, or the fact that my professor recently invited the class to his house for dinner, or the fact that my first semester professors during my first year included a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and the then-president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, or even the fact that we have a freakin’ castle on our campus reminds me that these things to which we are so accustomed are not run-of-the-mill, even in the world of higher education.

It’s practically ingrained in the Brandeis tradition to gripe about Brandeis—believe me, I’m as good at it as anyone (for example, it would be just super if my room in the Mods would settle on a temperature suitable for human life instead of jockeying between sub-freezing and the melting point of lead).

I think this tendency is actually a plus. On my tours, students and parents often marvel at the level of access and communication we have with university administration (or, for example, how I received a personal response from President Lawrence signed “Fred” when I sent him an e-mail earlier this year) and I attribute this accessibility to the fact that our student body isn’t afraid to be vocal when we see something we could improve upon as a school.

At this point I would say I’m not one to give advice, except that would be a lie since I am, after all, a talker and am never shy to give an opinion—so, here’s my advice. Don’t stop griping when something needs to be changed, and don’t stop focusing on your assignments when there’s a due date coming up—you’re paying enough to be here that you better do both of those things when necessary. But, from time to time, put your textbook down and forget about the terrible water pressure in your shower for a minute. Try to see this place objectively. You’re at Brandeis University. You take classes with professors who are literally the best and the brightest in their fields. Your classmates will be going on to do amazing things. You get the chance to dance around in front of a huge audience wearing nothing but latex paint for heavens’ sake! Savor it for a moment because it won’t last forever. Then, get back to your physics problem set—it’s due in 24 hours and you haven’t started it yet because you were too busy writing a senior column for The Hoot.