199 Bottles of Weird on the Wall

Demarest Hall is a special-interest dorm at Rutgers University, one where I spent a very special year of my life. I’ve asked Grazina Strolia to write about Demarest and why she chose to live there. –NF

Ivy smiled at me.

She was the first person I met the first time I walked into Demarest.

In every other dorm I entered, I was greeted with blank stares or simply ignored. In Demarest, the moment I walked in, I was smiled at.

I was welcomed.

And it wasn’t just Ivy, although I’ll always remember that smile.

Demarites went out of their way to introduce themselves; you could strike up a conversation without worrying about what clique they were in, or how their coolness level related to yours. More than that, they were also oddballs. Like me.

Being an oddball, being smart, were assets here, but liabilities elsewhere. Here, finally, was a place you could learn.

And blow random things up.

And dance to traditional German waltzes wearing nothing but paint and a rainbow wig, boo yah.

I’d like to think that this culture of celebrating one’s weirdness led to a culture of acceptance, and being accepted made us better people. We became our best selves; outgoing, successful, happy. I remember crying a lot my freshman year, but by the time I had lived in Demarest for only 3 months, I was happy.

I recall discovering this fact while studying late one night. Realizing that happiness wasn’t a perpetual feeling of bliss or even the result of things turning out well, but rather, a feeling of self-acceptance coupled with an interesting future to live into. I looked forward to each new day.
I remember feeling, by the time I was a senior, that I was, somehow, 199 people large. I was a piece of Demarest and Demarest was part of me. Not that I had lost my identity; it was more like Demarest amplified mine.

When I left college, I vowed to myself that since I had experienced true happiness, and so many people in this world never get to, I would be an Ambassador of Happiness wherever I went; treating people with the grace that was so missing in their everyday lives. I lose sight of that these days sometimes, I’ll admit; Wicked Winter brings it back (not coincidentally, Wicked is run by a Demarite).

Actually, you know, I’ll amend that: “acceptance” isn’t a specific-enough term. People often confuse it with tolerance, the least one can expect from a civilized society. Tolerance will not lead to anything more than the ability to survive, and it has no warmth to it.

Acceptance, on the other hand, is active. It is a form of choice; as in I choose you. It is a validation of the other person as a whole. It does not mean you are friends, but it does put you on the same team.

Acceptance has power to it; acceptance causes thriving.

One of the beautiful twists to this whole thing — I think I had depressive episodes while at Demarest. There was a picture taken of everyone in the dorm — all 199 of us — and I remember people calling me down from my room to get in the shot, but I just… couldn’t do it. I’m not in the picture. I was sad, but — this is the interesting part — I was not unhapppy. There was a beautiful balance to the whole thing; a sense of global perspective; and by that evening, I was again surrounded by people I loved and who loved me.

I was at peace.

Back atcha, Ivy. 🙂

Demarest Hall
Demarest Hall. (Image source)


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