The Zoo Book

via Daily Prompt: Zoo

September, 1973. I arrive at Carleton College as a freshman. One of the items we are given during our orientation is the “zoo book”, a small book containing the names and photos of the members of the class of 1977. In most cases, the photos appear to be our high school graduation photos.

I pored over this book, studying it, getting some sense of the members of my class. What they looked like in a photo–sometimes quite different from their actual appearance, and where they were from. Last spring, I had the opportunity to visit with my former roommate, Karen. At one point we recalled the zoo book, and she remembered me studying it as well, learning the members of our class. She still marvels that I knew who nearly everyone in the book was.

For someone who was ill at ease in larger (more than a few people) social gatherings, this little book was a huge resource. I was able to increase my familiarity with my classmates, orienting a bit to names and faces. With what I understand now, I recognize that I was reducing my sensory overload, helping my system to decrease the amount of  new information it had to handle. Speaking directly to all those people (our class was around 450) was a daunting prospect, getting a tiny handle on them this way helped. It was then easier to interact with them when I encountered them on campus.

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My page from the Zoo Book. I’m at the end of the second row

Looking at this page from the zoo book now,  I notice a few things. One is how incredibly young we all were. Hardly surprising as those pictures were taken 45 years ago. What does surprise me is how evocative these photos are for me, and also, as I study this single page, I realize that I still have some connection to a number of these individuals.

Laurence McKinley Gould, geologist and polar explorer, was a professor of geology at Carleton and its president from 1945-1962. One of his many statements concerning the school is “You are a part of Carleton and Carleton is a part of you”. As I peruse the Zoo Book today, I realize again the truth of this statement.


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