As I reflect on my four years at St. Lawrence, I have a hard time conceptualizing what my college experience would be like if chance hadn’t brought me here. On a humid June day nearly five years ago, I was presented with the St. Lawrence Book Award during my high school’s honors convocation. Having never heard of St. Lawrence, I was humbled to be presented with the award, but I was also a bit taken aback. My high school English teacher recognized the fit much earlier than I did as she exclaimed, “St. Lawrence would be perfect for you.”
Shortly after, I started to consider the university and my excitement grew. As I received admissions materials in the mail, I found myself drawn to images of the Adirondack mountains and pines, the eclectically decorated cozy dorm room, and the students sitting in Adirondack chairs on the quad. It already felt like home.
During that momentous admissions process, I didn’t have the self-awareness to know what fit would be best for me. I loved the small class discussions and tight-knit relationships I fostered with my high school peers and teachers, but I didn’t know enough about what I wanted out of my college experience, which led me to apply to a variety of different universities and colleges. After a long and difficult admissions process filled with wait-lists and rejections, I enrolled at St. Lawrence University.
It’s hard to know what to expected out of college as a first year. Many of us entered thinking that we would find our lifelong friends during our first semester, have booming social lives, and acclimate to a new environment relatively instantaneously. I soon realized that is often not the case. Transitioning to college is no easy undertaking. It can be emotionally turbulent and lonely at times. I often felt riddled with feelings of doubt as the questions “is this where I’m supposed to be? Did I make the right choice? Do I belong somewhere else, somewhere bigger?” ricocheted through my head.
But those moments were only small punctuations in a freshman year filled with adventure and diverse experiences. St. Lawrence’s commitment to balance afforded me the opportunity to perform well academically but to also explore other outlets that allowed me to grow and further refine my interests.
I spent my first year taking a wide array of classes that broadened my worldview and allowed me to participate in stimulating classroom discussions. I grew close with my professors, members of my FYP, and with the neighboring FYP’s on my floor. I got involved with student government, was a regular at cheese club, wrote regularly for The Hill News, and explored the Adirondack region by skiing and hiking.
Once I acclimated and got involved, I felt whole and fulfilled. My appreciation and love for St. Lawrence grew but for some reason, inexplicably I could not shake the doubt or the wonder of where I belonged. I again found myself pondering the big school experience that I naively thought I was fit for. To ensure that I wouldn’t think “what if” for the rest of my college years, I decided to enroll in my large Ivy League dream school during the fall of my sophomore year.
From the onset of my experience, I was continuously disappointed at the academic experience offered. My teacher’s voice reverberated off the walls of the large lecture hall as she chimed, “Hello! Welcome, all 250 of you! I would like to start by saying that if you have any questions regarding the course please consult your syllabus, then a friend in the class. If your question still remains unanswered, consult your TA and as a last resort, me.” I was stunned by professor’s detachment and lack of interest in getting to know her students. Nothing about it was personally fulfilling to me. No one cared if I showed up to class. My professor didn’t even know my name. Throughout my experience, I felt like one of many students consuming a mass-produced education. I left each lecture longing for the small classroom discussions and personal interactions I had with my professors and peers at St. Lawrence.
In a competitive, cutthroat, rather than collaborative environment, the prospect of not being successful was utterly terrifying for many students. I witnessed individuals question their self-worth and ability in the absence of academic validation. The risk of falling short prompted many to avert risk; the objective was to do the work, get the grade, and prepare for a career, leaving little time for anything else. Very few individuals I met involved themselves in activities that nourished their soul or made them happy, mostly because many largely considered non-career oriented activates to be a waste of time.
As someone who loved to learn and enrich myself in every aspect of my life, I found the environment to be disappointing, rote, and unfulfilling. Almost immediately, I began to yearn for my St. Lawrence experience.
The transition from a small liberal arts school to a large, impersonal Ivy League finally imparted within me what environment I needed most. After that realization, I decided to return to St. Lawrence. My St. Lawrence friends and professors selflessly supported my decisions, which starkly contrasted the Ivy League students who repeatedly told me how crazy I was to be giving up an elite education. Shortly after I re-enrolled, former Dean of Academic Affairs Val Lehr reached out, expressing that she would do anything to ensure my successful transition back to St. Lawrence. To me, those two instances represent what St. Lawrence is all about. We look out for and support each other because we are all valued entities of the St. Lawrence community.
Following that experience, this University demonstrated to me that the true purpose of college is to assist you on the journey of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, as well as the mind and experience. During that process, you build your identity and become a unique being. College is the time to explore and adventure; to find yourself through introspection and self-reflection, which is why an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation and devoid of soul fulfilling experiences and adventures are four years largely wasted. There is something to be said about St. Lawrence’s allegiance to real educational values, such as professor involvement, diverse coursework, balance, dedication to critical thought, self-reflection, adventure, as well as the creation of lifelong friendships and networks.
As graduation looms nearly two years later, only now am I able to fully feel the impact this University has had on me as both a student and human being. As I walk through campus, I take in the North Country smell, hear the wind whistle through the Adirondack pines, listen to the chapel bells ring in the early evening, watch the snow sparkle as it accumulates upon the tree branches, and I’m reminded of how very special this place is. It is during those moments of contemplation and self-reflection that I am reminded that fate has a way of bringing you where you were supposed to be all along.