Passing by the life passing through

by John Pixley

Sometimes they haven’t been there, but most of the time they have been there. Now I wonder if I will see them as I pass by, going up College Avenue. I suspect they won’t be there in a few weeks but, for now, until the Colleges go on winter break, they are another familiar sight on the campuses this fall—as familiar as the students we see pass by.

For a while, since the early weeks of the semester in September, there would be two wetsuits hanging on the wall behind the dormitory next to the field on College Avenue at First Street. In the last month or so, there has sometimes been a third wetsuit hanging there on the wall.

Two die-hard surfers. Then they were occupationally joined by a friend. These guys—or women—are hard-core. At least the first two are. I have most often seen the wetsuits there on weekdays when classes are in session. Perhaps this wasn’t a big surprise on the many warm days in the last few months, but the wetsuits have been there sometimes on cloudy, cool days. And it’s not like Pomona College is known as a beach school; the beach is a serious drive away.

These guys have to get up way early and drive about an hour to catch some waves before classes. Or perhaps they hurry to make it to the beach after class.

Or perhaps they aren’t surfing. Maybe the wetsuits are being used in some experiment, maybe in the Pendleton Pool nearby. I have never seen anyone hanging up or removing the wetsuits; I have only seen them there—two of them and then sometimes three. I have no way of knowing if they actually belong to surfing students, although it would make the most sense that they do. Yes, it is remarkable that they would make the trip and go surfing so often while in school but, after all, there were students surfing when I was at UC Riverside, even further into the desert. Although they didn’t make such a regular habit of it.

I wouldn’t be that surprised. It wouldn’t surprise me also if one or two of them also played in the Pomona College Jazz Ensemble. I am constantly surprised at what the students do, and this group, under the direction of Barb Cartlin for the second or third year, is no exception.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when I attended its concert last month and found no more programs available and people standing outside Lyman Hall for the concert (“Don’t worry,” said Graydon Beeks as he managed the crowd, “they’re loud.”). These kids smoked, they swung and jammed like pros.

The best part? Seeing Ms. Cartlin, who is clearly a pro with lots of experience in the jazz world, and the way she stepped back and let the students do their stuff, which they clearly knew how to do. In her comments, she frequently mentioned being pleased in discovering what students were able to do as they came to join the group.

Or could they have had parts in the production of Spring Awakening at the college’s Seaver Theater a few weeks ago? It could happen. Like I said, I keep being surprised by what these students do. I had seen an excellent production of the provocative rock musical by Deaf West Theater in Los Angeles, done with that company’s now-signature spoken and sign language mirroring each other, a few weeks earlier. The Colleges’ production didn’t feature deaf actors and sign language, of course, but it pretty much stood up in comparison to the production in Los Angeles.

   This was all the more remarkable, since I was wondering how this musical dealing very frankly with sex in a repressive society, in addition to violence and suicide, would be done in a college production. Not only was there no omitting of the f-word in songs but, if anything, the scenes depicting intercourse, masturbation and guy-on-guy kissing were at least as graphic. 

All of this, along with some intense choreography, was done smoothly, very straight-forward, with the students clearly taking on this project very seriously and with much heart. Hopefully, some of the giggles I heard in the audience were all in this same spirit.

Also, there was a live band—always a treat.

I wonder if the surfing students are involved in the efforts to get the campuses to be more ecologically friendly and sustainable. In an interview with Patt Morrison published not too long ago in the Los Angeles Times, Donald Gould, who heads the board of trustee’s investment committee at Pitzer College, talked about how the school became one of the first US colleges to sell off stocks in global warming-causing fossil fuels. A Pomona College graduate who runs an asset management firm, Mr. Gould explained the he wasn’t an environmental activist but “spent the summer thinking long and hard about the issue” after students came to the committee with the divestment idea last year.

Did these students take part in the protest at city hall, organized on Facebook and other social network sites, after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of a young black man in Ferguson, Missouri? 

Or perhaps they were in one of the student a capella groups who sang or were among the thousands of students who filled the cavernous Bridges Auditorium and whooped and hollered and cheered on the groups at a concert last month. I’m always amazed at this annual event, both by the high-caliber work by the singers and by how popular something so old-school and geeky is, and I was even more surprised this year when I barely snuck in.

It is a wonder to see these students, who pass through Claremont year after year, growing and finding themselves during their time here, whether we see it on a stage or on a commons or in passing a wall. In this season of gratitude and gifts, it is truly something special, if not so unique, to see these students coming to this small town to enrich their lives and, in so doing, enrich our lives.

Perhaps even more of a wonder here is that anyone can leave a wetsuit—much less three—hanging on an outside wall and not find it stolen.

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