A Sense of Belonging
By Zulay Mateo '02
I walk away from the new athletic facilities, I stop and turn around.
I can clearly see how much this University has grown in the last four
years. This growth brings a smile to my face, a smile that quickly turns
into a nostalgic stare. I realize that my time here is at an end. My
four years have come and gone in a heartbeat. But I can't complain because
I have enjoyed and taken full advantage of that heartbeat.
Four years ago, as I stepped onto the St. Lawrence University campus
I doubted whether I would survive, not because I wasn't prepared but
because it seemed like I didn't belong. As I walked around campus or
attended classes I found a distinct lack of diversity. Sometimes I was
the only student of color in my class. That experience was unusual for
me because I came from A. E. Stevenson High School in the Bronx, where
my teacher was the only white person in the room. This insecurity didn't
last long, because I was determined to take advantage of the opportunity
that St. Lawrence was offering me.
But first I needed to forget about the cold weather and the snow. And
I needed to understand the responsibility that came with my beautiful
skin color. Sometimes my professors and classmates believed that I was
an expert in race relations, just because of my skin color. I also had
to explain to some of my teammates that my accent derives from my speaking
English as a second language, not because I live in New York City. I
certainly remember one occasion when I had to prove to my coach that
I was like any other athlete; because of my skin color she did not believe
she could approach me as she approached the other players.
By the time I returned to campus after my academic semester through
St. Lawrence's exchange program with Fisk University, I was able to
comprehend the responsibility that my skin color gave me. That understanding
made it easier for me to adjust to St. Lawrence and to let St. Lawrence
adjust to me. During my four years at St. Lawrence I studied in Spain
and at Fisk, was part of the intercollegiate volleyball team, served
on Thelmo, and joined AHORA (A Hispanic Organization Raising Awareness)
and many committees. I was also for two semesters the Intercultural
House coordinator, in charge of about 30 students and responsible for
creating programs for the residents as well as others on campus. I was
also a proud Big Sister to a young North Country boy; not spending time
with my little brother will be something that I will miss greatly.
I also had the opportunity to form close, long-lasting friendships
with people who were totally different from me. I cherish these friends
because they have seen me grow and experience many things in these last
four years. I depart from St. Lawrence University with a truly bittersweet
taste; I know that it is time to start a new chapter in my young life,
I do I recall some of the hardships, but I will also never forget the
amazing people in this institution who supported me, without whom my
journey would have been so much more
After heading home to New York City upon graduating, Spanish and
government double-major Zulay Mateo spent the summer working at Commerce
Bank and preparing to take the U.S. Foreign Services exam in the fall.