Coming Full Circle: What I Learned From Visiting My Alma Mater

Coming Full Circle: What I Learned From Visiting My Alma Mater

A few weeks ago, just about a year since my college graduation, I stepped through the front gates at my alma mater.

I followed the gravel path to the Admissions Office, a walk I had done by rote so many days over my four years. This time, though, I wasn’t running to print in the library or trying to cram a meal in in between rehearsals. I was with my younger brother, heading to check him into the Admissions Office for his tour. This was my school, but it was his visit.

My day on campus was a sort of a time-warp. As I walked, I felt like I was on this tour with my brother and on my own first tour six years earlier and in my own memories of my time at school.

When I first visited the school six years earlier, I was an anxious high-schooler who couldn’t picture leaving home and so never knew what to say when people said “so, do you picture yourself at this school?” I had been at the same, small school for thirteen years, and I didn’t feel ready to leave it. As my family and I trekked from college visit to college visit, we heard the same shpiel about meal plans and freshmen dorms and libraries, and I would zone out, thinking about what it would feel like to live with a roommate, to be without my parents, to choose a major. The whole thing felt so big to me that it was hard for me to conceive of it.

As I walked around my campus with my brother, the college at once full of all it had been for me and could, potentially, be for him, I thought about a few of the things I wish I had known when I stepped foot on my first tour.

During the Information Session, I thought of all the things I didn’t think about or know to ask when it was me sitting where my brother sat.

When I was a high-school senior, it was easy for me to assume that things that had been part of my life forever, without my having to arrange them or really think about them, might not be that important. I had been actively involved in my hometown Jewish community, but I didn’t understand the extent to which I’d miss feeling a part of that when I went off to school. When I was looking, I thought a Hillel was enough — I never thought to ask more, to question how involved students seemed to be or to think about how it might help define my college life.

At 18, I had a pretty intense fear of traveling alone. I swore up and down that I could “just get over it” if I ended up at a school that was a flight away. I’m sure I would’ve made it work, but a 2-hour drive from home wound up being the perfect thing for me.

I was positive I wanted to study English — I was hellbent on taking every literature class available to me, on writing for every outlet, on being a part of every magazine and journal and reading. College’s English department cultures were of my utmost concern. Come second semester sophomore year, I declared a Drama major and spent the rest of my college career studying directing.

As I listened to this new Admissions counselor tell my brother about all of the clubs he might join and share anecdotes about how deeply the professors actually care about their students, these decisions ran through my head — I had picked it for its community, for its character, for the personality and warmth of the place, but there were so many things I realized, over the course of my time at school, that I just didn’t know would be so important to me at the time. I wanted to tell my brother, to tell other prospective students who sat near us, eyes glazed over from hearing “ACT Score” too many times — ask more questions, really think about what matters to you!

At lunch after the tour, I fought back the urge to ask my brother the infinite yes-or-no questions that had been running through my mind since we arrived. Instead of asking him what he thinks about co-ed or single-sex housing or if it matters to him if he has easy access to a movie theatre, I stopped.

How could he, a high school junior, really know what he might want two years from now? I couldn’t have, at 18, having spent most of my life in places that were familiar and routine, known everything I might need in a new place.

One of the most important parts of my time in college was discovering that some of the things I had been so certain about weren’t necessarily true — I joined and left a sorority, I changed my mind about what I wanted to study and where I wanted to spend time abroad. I couldn’t have known all the “right” questions back then; I hadn’t yet had the experiences that made me want to ask them.

The magic I felt back on campus is, in large part, the magic of all the lives I was able to lead in one place — all of the many iterations of college I experienced over the course of four years, as I got my feet wet and found who and what really mattered to me.

As we drove away from the Hill I had called home for four years, I was struck by how little all of those questions actually matter. How lucky I was to have found a college that grew with me, a place that wasn’t just right for the 18-year-old who picked it, but also for the 21-year-old who emerged from it after for four years.