There are a few things I would never have said about myself before coming to St. Lawrence. A self-proclaimed city girl, I would never have told you I like living in a small town where I can see stars when I walk home from the library at night. I would never have told you I could read an entire book in two sittings, perform poetry in front of an audience, or rock climb in the Kentucky woods. Most of all, I would never have told you that I was smart.
I don’t think I ever thought of myself as necessarily un-intelligent, but I hadn’t had the easiest time with schoolwork. In elementary school I was taken out of class once a week for an extra class in the library with students who wrote their E’s with eight lines. In middle school I was in grade-level math, which my peers labeled ‘dumb-math’, their accelerated math of course was called ‘smart-math’. I remember the tutors, the tears at homework time, and the anxiety of taking tests. Things started to fall into place in high school. I worked to keep up with my competitive grade-grubbing friends and got into National Honors Society. My senior year, I took half of my classes at the University of Minnesota and graduated with highest honors. Still, I never would have said I was smart. As my mother said, I always did enough to do well, but nothing more.
When I arrived at St. Lawrence as a first-year student, a switch seemed to flip in my brain. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was that made it happen, but suddenly I felt successful in academics. This is probably due to a culmination of many things. To begin with, the classes were engaging. How could I not love a class where we took field trips to hike mountains and journal? At the end of my first semester, I found myself with the best grades I had ever received, and my first ever 4.0. I almost didn’t believe it when I first saw my transcript. It’s not that I believe grades to be the determining factor of intelligence, but that common standard was the final shake I needed to see the worth that was waiting inside me my whole life.
It was more than just the interesting classes that led me to a sense of confidence in my own intelligence. In and out of class, I felt that my peers genuinely cared about what I had to say and were as interested in me as I was with them. College broke the barrier between home life and school life that I had experienced for my entire educational career. I was living and socializing with the same people I was learning with, and the acceptance that I felt from them carried over into the classroom. But it wasn’t only these students who helped me. I sensed that my professors genuinely cared about my success. They wanted me to follow my interests, would meet with me out of class, encourage me to try new things, come to events I told them about, and treat me not as a number or a student they would have for just one class, but rather as a member of a community eager to learn and grow.
The thing about believing your own self-worth is that it builds on itself in monumental strides. After my first year, I became addicted to the word, ‘Yes’. I had to say yes to everything. Yes to living in a Theme House. Yes to job opportunities on campus. Yes to hiking the John Muir Trail. Yes to a summer fellowship in Washington, D.C., and living on my own. Yes to studying abroad in a country where I didn’t know the language. The confidence in myself which developed during my first year continues to grow today with each new opportunity I take advantage of. I needed a place like St. Lawrence to help me get to know myself better. I am ready to take on the label; finally I am smart.