I wasn’t supposed to go to Wellesley.
As a high school sophomore, I fell hopelessly in love with the idea of a college in Pennsylvania. I read books about the college’s history, lived in their oversized blue sweatshirt, and wrote the college’s name on the inside of my wrist to make myself focus in class. I mapped out a plan for my future my major, my dorm, and the clubs I would join there. I dreamed of the friends I would make, and the way that they and the school would shape the person I would become. It was fate.
The irony, for any of you who are familiar with Wellesley, is that this obsessively thorough approach to life is about the most Wellesley thing in the world. But I didn’t know that at the time.
When my college admission letters came, I was in a tough spot. My dream college had accepted me, but to the tune of $35,000 in student debt by the time I graduated. Wellesley had also accepted me, and between their financial aid and an outside scholarship, I could get my degree for free. Wellesley was the obvious choice, but I wanted to visit before I committed.
My family and I drove up to Boston for the accepted students’ weekend, where I, along with 200 other nervous “prospies,” was herded around the campus by energetic tour guides, walking backwards over the hills. I was fed cupcakes and given a lanyard in my future class color. That night, sitting on a sleeping bag on the floor of a stranger’s dorm room, I listened as a group of students talked about the magazine they were creating to feature student voices. At the other colleges I visited, students told me what they wanted to do after graduation. This was the first place where students were already doing the things they talked about.
I wanted in. I sent in my acceptance form the next day.
I wish I could tell you that it was easy from the start, but it wasn’t. My first few months at Wellesley were harrowingly lonely. I shared a basement-level room with two roommates, on hall that didn’t have a living room but a sad “kitchenette” with one sofa. On the days that I needed time alone, I would find a private bathroom stall on the other side of the dorm and cry in peace. The classes were harder than what I was used to, so I stayed up till all hours of the night to work, only to still get a B-. I made friends, but it was hard to spend time together between the term papers and exams and trying to sleep.
I thought about transferring; but that spring, I was offered an RA position for the next year, and decided to stick it out.
The RA position ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. I moved to a new dorm and immediately clicked with my floor-mates and fellow RAs. I got into the swing of schoolwork, and was able to make more time to see my friends and do things just for fun. We went to plays in Boston, or into Cambridge to drink coffee and smell everything at Lush, or blew off our German exam to go scuba diving with Santa Claus. I was happy.
My year abroad came and went, and by the time I came back to Wellesley, I was exhausted. I’d spent all summer volunteering and wasn’t sure how I’d keep up the energy I needed for a new year. At the same time, I looked forward to the new beginning: I had signed up for a leadership position that I had wanted since Orientation, I was enrolled in classes I loved, and I was living next to my best friends.
But what comes up must come down, and after a long, hard summer, I crashed. I injured my knee and ended up on crutches for weeks, in a building where the elevator sometimes decided to turn itself off. The leadership role cost me so much more time and effort than I realized, and I couldn’t keep up. But the real problem was something deeper: after running on empty for months, I realized I couldn’t run anymore. I was at the end of my rope. So I went home.
My time away ended up being exactly what I needed. Not because I needed to be away from Wellesley, but because I had my own issues to work through; things that had been building up for years. When I came back, I was different. I felt more grounded in myself and in what I needed, instead of in the things I thought I needed to do for others. I made new choices, and they brought me my best year at Wellesley yet.
In my last two semesters, I met some of the most wonderful people I know. I dug deeper into my friendships and spent more time learning and less time performing for a grade. I had real, honest-to-God, laugh-until-you-fall-off-the-bed fun. In some way, the time I’d spent at home had taught me about who I wanted to be, and that knowledge made my last year at Wellesley the most fun and wonderful I’d had.
I’m not sharing this because my story is unique or even especially important. I’m sharing it because, eight months after graduating, I miss Wellesley in a way I never thought was possible. If you had told me in my first year, as I cried on the floor of the bathroom in my dorm, that I would ever long to come back and visit, I would have laughed you out of the room (and then locked the door, because this is a bathroom, can I have a little privacy please?). But for all its difficulties, Wellesley is where I first found myself. It’s where I met the people who I talk to every day, who will one day dance and sing drunkenly at my wedding. It’s where I discovered my passions and realized that I have the skills and drive to pursue them. It’s where I learned my own resilience.
Wellesley wasn’t always the place I wanted, or needed, it to be. But with even just a few months’ distance, I’m able to see much more clearly how much it gave me. For all my complaints and despite my rose-colored alumna glasses, I know: I am who I am for my time there.