Central Hall at Night

The night is clear, listen…

Written by Dietrich Balsbaugh

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

—David Foster Wallace, This is Water

The time is 11:30 p.m. I walk alone out the front door of Simpson Residence. The clear fall breeze drifts slowly across my face, and a few stars wink through the lights of campus. My phone is off, and my backpack sits unopened in my room. Now is not the time for homework. Now is the time to listen.

The whimsical melodies of the Hepcats Swing Club float quietly across the street as I walk toward the Searle Center. Everyone is clapping in time. Before I leave, I hear one last raucous outburst from the fireplace in the Simpson courtyard. Men smoking pipes and unwinding from the long week. Once into Searle, it is dark, but the escalator is on, its own lights performing a mesmerizing shuffle on the moving steps. The mechanical humm carries me upward, and I let my shoes brush the soft bristles at the edge.

On what is left of the quad, a few folks relax on benches, joking loudly about the fun planned for the weekend or the misadventures of that week. In the distant windows of Lane and Kendall, I can see the movies of the night starting up on various projectors. It looks like someone is watching Star Wars.

I open the door to the Student Union to the pleasant crack of a freshly broken billiards game. The conversation around the pool table is overlaid with the higher frequency of ping-pong falling in an offset, four-count rhythm. Tak-tok, tok-tak… People still linger in A.J.’s Cafe even though it is closed. Keyboards and conversation remain as the last homework assignments are turned in before midnight.

I exit down the stairs and find myself on Hillsdale Street. The Olds girls are having their glow party. “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift plays as people sing along. I take a right and walk down to the ever-blinking traffic signal at Hillsdale and Fayette. I pass the two fraternity houses Sigma Chi and Alpha Tau Omega. The Sigma Chis have their own speaker out. There is sand volleyball, a bonfire, lots of chatter, and the energetic yells of a good rally on the headlight-lit court. I take another right and pass the Delta Tau Delta house where Delts smoke cigars on the back porch. They too are listening to the sounds of the evening.

Once I get to Manning Street, I stop in the middle of the road and look away from campus. Tonight students wander from house to house visiting warm campfires. Several doors down on the right the music is very loud and there is a party. Across the street some folks watch from their porch, laughing and conversing as the night deepens.

I am tired, so I turn for home up the iconic walk toward Central Hall, now illuminated above campus. The Civil War soldier greets me sternly like a gatekeeper as I pass. He is in the midst of watching over a game of capture the flag between some freshmen from Niedfeldt and McIntyre. As I leave the quad, the last stragglers from swing dance club are now leaving, shirts untucked and faces tired but happy from the long night of dancing. I finally arrive home and climb into bed, also exhausted, but filled with the sights and sounds of Hillsdale.

This is a place where people actively choose what to do with their lives and reflect on that frequently. On any given night or day, if you take time to stop and listen, you can hear just how many different opportunities there are to choose between. You will hear students who are keenly aware of their freedom to thrive at a school like Hillsdale. And at any turn, you will find a group of people willing to invest in you as much as you want to invest in them―all you must do is listen.

Dietrich BalsbaughDietrich Balsbaugh, ’20, studies English and mathematics. He loves dancing of any kind and playing in any sort of water, particularly if it involves skipping rocks. If you see him on campus, he’s usually talking about fractals, writing, or tossing a frisbee. He doesn’t mind, so be sure to stop and ask him what he’s thinking about.

Published in November 2018