Road to belonging

Photo by Allie Ghisson, Student Publications

I can clearly remember the day that I got accepted to Tech. It was a cold January morning, and I was distracting myself from my anxiety by helping to wrap up Christmas ornaments. A little bit after noon, when the decisions were going to be released, I forced myself to sit down at my computer at the kitchen table and open the admissions portal. I’m generally someone who likes to rip the band aid off; getting through the pain faster is easier than stewing in anxiety most of the time. I logged in and opened the page. As soon as I saw the “Congratulations!” banner across the top of the page, I sprang up from my chair and ran in circles around the house, screaming at the top of my lungs. I’d got in!

There was nothing that I’d wanted more since I’d moved to Georgia several years before. From the moment I heard about Tech, I knew that I wanted to come here. Getting accepted made me feel unstoppable. There was nothing that I couldn’t do; life would just be a cakewalk from here on out. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As we all know, Tech is one of the hardest places to simply exist. I have been pushed way past what I thought my breaking point was many times at this school. Tech has gotten me to do things that I never thought possible. Even now, in my last semester, Tech is reminding me of how ruthless it can be and how it rarely eases up on its students. It’s really easy to think, in the midst of all the adversity that we face here, that the admissions staff got it wrong. I know that this thought crossed my mind many times over the past 5 and a half years. I can remember one such moment: I’d turned in a perfect homework assignment in CS 1332. Every single test case passed. My design was elegant and efficient. And yet, because I forgot to include an extra file I’d added, my code wouldn’t compile and I got a zero on the assignment.

When I realized that there was nothing I could do, that no matter how much I tried I could not undo this error that would cause so much damage to my already tenuous grade in that class, I sat down on some steps outside Klaus and cried. What is it about this school that can cause us so much grief and pain?

If you’d asked me then, I would have confidently said that I didn’t get my validation from my grades. And yet that failure rocked my world in a way that belied that confidence. I think that for many of us, Tech is our first real experience with failure that we are helpless to fix. There was nothing I could have done in that moment to fix the broken code I’d turned in.

There was truly nothing I could have done to fix the situation. Whether I liked it or not, I’d built an image of myself over the years as someone smart, successful, and talented.

The situation did not align with this self image, and so I felt a deep sense of loss and sadness. In my despair, there was only one conclusion to draw: I did not belong at Tech.

I didn’t think that I would ever get to where I am now. And yet here I am, four weeks from my last final ever. It seems surreal, almost fictional. As I arrive at the finish line, there’s only one conclusion to draw: I was wrong.

As I sat on those concrete steps, certain that I’d destroyed my education, certain that everyone who believed in me would be disappointed, certain that I didn’t belong — I was wrong. I have been tremendously blessed to have people around me who reminded me that I was wrong in that moment. My friends, my family, my girlfriend, professors, my campus minister have all managed to remind me again and again that I was wrong.

Tech has been a crazy, confusing whirlwind, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. All of the pain and hardship is punctuated by so many wonderful moments and memories that I’ll take with me the rest of my life. And all the pain and hardship has made it possible for me to overcome even greater hardships as the years have gone by.

So if you’re sitting on those steps outside Klaus feeling like the world is ending: go ahead and cry. It’s a good spot to cry on campus; hardly anyone uses that door, and it’s covered from the rest of the turnaround by some big plants. But once you’ve cried, get up and get going. You’re a helluva engineer, and you belong here.