Choosing a path: why one junior returned to humble beginnings

The Etownian September 5, 2012 0

Frantically pacing the corner of 6th Avenue and West 12th, I spoke on the phone with my mother, making a desperate proposition before my 2:00 p.m. class. A chilly February breeze bit at my face and blew wisps of hair into tiny knots with each step I took back and forth. “It’s your choice,” she said, “You have to choose.” Yellow taxis sped by in a blur and I realized I was about to cry.

I hung up and walked a block to The New School’s Wollman Hall. After flashing my ID to security, I sat down to a sticky keyboard in the computer lab and began typing and re-typing emails. How could I articulate all that I had to in a few short sentences? Would Etown ever let me come back anyway?

After enduring serious autoimmune health issues throughout my high school career and during my first semester at Elizabethtown College in 2009, I had felt severely limited. Because of my health, there were many choices that I was unable to make during my teenage years. After ultimately being diagnosed with Celiac disease and regaining a remission from illness, I yearned to explore and to immerse myself in a wider world.

On paper, The New School offered me a place of intellectual exploration, engagement, and discovery. It is a New York university, situated in the Village in lower Manhattan.

Last fall I strolled through New York carrying The Odyssey and the Aeneid in my backpack.  I sat in countless seminars learning to “unpack” great works of literature and critique pieces of social and feminist theory. I skipped class to march down Fifth Avenue as part of a school-wide protest in support of the Occupy movement for economic justice, and even interviewed a female Sergeant in the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau for an article I was working on.

Upon returning to the city after winter break, though, I struggled with the material we were covering. I read and read about social and economic disparities, gender inequity, and the like. I participated in class discussion and studied among intellectuals, but one question kept haunting me: what were we doing to make change?

Each day as I walked home from class I began to realize certain undeniable contradictions within the city: the severely poor and abhorrently rich co-mingling on street corners, the subway (a seemingly fast form of transportation) running late or off-schedule, children forced to play on fenced-in concrete playgrounds instead of grass-filled yards. New York seemed both fast and slow, good and bad, oppressive and freeing. The city was simultaneously elusive and exclusive; beautiful and terrible.

The contradiction that was perhaps most disturbing at The New School, though, was that of communication, or the lack thereof. Despite multiple emails, phone calls, and office visits, it was nearly impossible to get in contact with professors and advisers outside of class. In fact, while trying to contact the Chair of a department about my intended major, I was told by a Junior adviser that my best bet would be to “stalk” him after his class.

As the weeks went by, the internal bureaucratic problems at The New School became more apparent. Proposed curriculum changes that had been in “discussion” for months (if not years) remained unchanged despite students’ arguments for change. Certain offices rarely answered their phones or communicated at all.

It hit me that February day as I spoke on the phone with my mother, desperate with a proposition to return to Elizabethtown, that perhaps what I was chasing was not worth catching. The New School was not providing me with any redeeming skills for which to enter the current job market. And, although my remission from illness lasted many months, I was beginning to get sick again.

After close correspondence with the office of Registration and Records here at Etown, I applied for re-admission and was notified of my acceptance via email less than an hour after turning the paperwork in. I spoke closely with my adviser about my schedule and feel confident that Etown will provide me with skills that will better help me after graduation. The motto “Educate for Service” emphasizes that not only will we read theory, we will learn how to practice and implement it.

Upon my return to Elizabethtown, I was overwhelmed with the kindness, sincerity, and helpfulness of those around campus. It feels almost as if I never left.

While driving out of the Holland Tunnel for the last time, I turned back to look at the city and its brilliance. The lights suddenly blurred and merged together, just as the yellow taxis did earlier in February. Now, the scent of chocolate fills the air as I proudly walk across campus.

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