At my FASET in July 2015, there was a point at which some admin was standing on the Ferst Center stage and celebrating our accomplishments as a freshman class. Congratulating us, he whooped: “I want you to stand up if Georgia Tech was your dream school.”
My sweaty body curled deeper into my chair, wishing I could actually sink into it and through the floor. Of course, all of the yellow lanyards I could see stood up and were applauded by the parents scattered throughout the theater. I did not and, on realizing I could just have stood anyway, was then frozen with embarrassment when I locked eyes with a stern dad in my row. Shame on you. You know how lucky you are.
The end of high school and beginning of college was a difficult time for me. Exhausted and ego-bruised by grueling standardized testing and application season, I had been rejected by my stretch schools for policy studies and writing. I had been wait-listed at schools that I thought were sure bets. I had been accepted to one school, and the financial aid package I would be on was frankly amazing, but it felt diametrically opposed to what I wanted to study. I worried that liberal arts would be an afterthought and that I was not smart enough to handle STEM stuff. I hated the south. But I got in, so I gave it a chance.
I have no doubt that I would have been able to do well at other schools. It is very possible that I might have left other schools with better networks, better writing skills, better knowledge of something or other. I have come to understand that, save for “rocks for jocks” and that one mandatory R class, what I have learned academically at Tech is nothing I could not have learned elsewhere — which makes the “why are you at Tech” question that liberal arts majors often face in interviews a really difficult thing to answer.
What I think is less ubiquitous is the learning experiences outside of the classroom. Lots of schools have a student newspaper, but very few have one staffed mostly by engineers who teach each other without the support of a journalism program. Lots of schools help their students get internships, but not as many are located blocks from a top-ten NPR station. Lots of schools are in cities, but few are in cities so livable as Atlanta.
Moreso than even those experiences, the people I have added to my life because of Tech are irreplaceable. They have literally and figuratively propped me up. They walked home with me to West Campus after 2a.m. deadlines, musing about what it would be like to be seniors who knew what they were doing. They texted me for math help that I could not provide, but we would both laugh about it. They reminded me I was capable, not just academically or professionally, but personally; that I was worthy of ride-or-die friendship and could give it in return.
Tech gave me them, and I know nowhere else could have because it turns out many of us are here for the same reasons: circumstance — or the lack thereof —and money — or the lack thereof. So many of my friends are here because of a unique combination of Zell Miller and other plans not coming through, and I could not be happier that our eighteen-year-old selves were so disappointed.
Even those for whom Tech was the dream, I have to assume, have all questioned whether this was the right choice. Such is the nature of making choices.
It is extraordinarily easy to reinterpret hindsight being 20/20 into meaning that the correct choice could never be the one we made. I wonder what we could accomplish as a human race if we spent less time considering why we did what we did and what we might have done differently — if instead we focused more on the fact that we are here, and where we could go. Certainly, I wish I had spent less time wishing I was not at Tech — however justified my reasons — and more time working hard to bloom where I had been planted.
I hope that in a few short weeks when I am no longer a Tech student, I will stop being asked why I came here. I truly, now more than ever in the past four years, believe that it does not matter. I came here, and I was here and I am leaving here. Intentions mean nothing in the face of real, tangible experiences that took place during my four years here. The question of “why” matters far less when compared to my gratitude that it happened at all.