The Choice: One Year Later
The Commons Center, the student center located in the heart of The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons at Vanderbilt, has a beautiful grand piano in the lobby, a glossy, whalelike monument to music begging to be made. Sometime last September, I first heard it played, and after a second or two of confusion, I realized it was improvisational jazz—and it was good. I walked toward the piano in awe, hearing the musical mist around me swell to a torrent of bluesy riffs gushing from the unidentifiable pianist’s fingers. When I found out who was manning the keys, however, I was flabbergasted: locked in frenetic concentration was one of my friends from Math 205. I had no idea he could play piano, much less improvise for 90 minutes straight. His unexpected, outstanding talent—reflective of the depth of Vanderbilt’s student body—led me to only one thought:
This is why I love this school.
Six short months before, any statement of the sort seemed a distant pipe dream: As I sallied forth during my high school senior year—happily ready to do battle with everything life’s capricious pitcher threw my way—one herculean task remained unfinished: my college choice.
My situation was difficult; I had been admitted to Yale but was awaiting scholarship notifications from other universities—including Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science. On March 12, 2010, a day I might start celebrating as “Incredibly-Understated-Yet-Life-Changing Email Day,” I received word that Vanderbilt had offered me the phenomenal Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship. How was I ever going to make up my mind?
On top of that, I had an additional question with which I had to grapple: How was I going to describe my choice to readers around the world?
The New York Times Calling
This question had emerged during a lunchtime phone call in late February 2010, leading to one of those moments I’d never envisioned happening halfway through a ham sandwich: The call was from The New York Times, and they wanted me to outline my college decision-making process as a guest blogger for The Choice, the Times’ higher education blog.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I enthusiastically signed on—but I was also nervous. After all, the pressure to live up to the Times name was enormous, and I knew that sharing my life with the world would invariably summon the digital peanut gallery. I felt up to the challenge, though, so as I dove into my deliberation—replete with campus visits at Vanderbilt and Yale and talks with students, admissions officers and deans—I made it my goal to have fun with every word going under my evanescent byline.
As spring progressed and I continued my blog series, my gut slowly but surely transitioned to Vanderbilt, my writing surprisingly serving as a means of distilling and clarifying my then-muddled feelings. After announcing my choice, I ended my blog series in late June with a hopeful analogy between a still-unfamiliar Vanderbilt and the Land of Oz, but as I submitted my final post, faint pangs of second-guessing began to settle in. Had I really made the right choice? I had no way of being sure until I arrived in Nashville in the fall. It was a risk, but I felt confident; after all, Dorothy and Toto thrived post-twister, so why wouldn’t I?
Not in Kansas Anymore
After finishing a lightning-fast first year in the College of Arts and Science, I turned out to be right; it has been an absolutely incredible start to what ought to be an unforgettable four years. My classes—covering everything from the significance of the nonhuman in German literature to the neuroscientific underpinnings of consciousness—have expanded my worldview and have pushed me in the ways I needed to be pushed. Outside of the classroom, I have also found some of the nicest, most talented people I have ever met: About two weeks into the school year, I auditioned for Vanderbilt Off-Broadway—probably the single best decision I made first semester—and performed in the group’s production of the musical Nine. I also moonlighted as vice president of my Commons house, teaming up with administrators to bring a six-band concert to The Ingram Commons’ end-of-year festivities.
I had been admitted to Yale but was awaiting scholarship notifications from other universities—including Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science.
But to mention what I have done is only part of the story, for I couldn’t begin to describe how I have truly lived this first year: sweet potato pancakes shared with friends at the Pancake Pantry; Frisbee on the Peabody Esplanade; impromptu adventures through nighttime Nashville; hall discussions until 3 a.m. on the merits of the humanities; and every waking moment I spent this summer with Vanderbilt’s VISAGE program in Costa Rica.
Throughout the year—no matter my exhaustion, stress or Lilliputian concern—I found myself constantly going back to the memory of the epiphany-inducing piano, the wonder of that moment echoed in a cappella concerts and rainforest hikes alike. The more I’m steeped in Vanderbilt, the more I love it—so much so that I applied to be a VUceptor for first-year students this fall. When thinking about the new students in the Class of 2015, I recall my senior year and the stress surrounding my college decision, and a thought comes to mind:
I know I made the right choice. I hope that they, too, will feel the same.
photo credit: John Russell