I’m going to sleep tonight in my W&M sweat pants and the over-sized t-shirt from the school I almost went to: I’ll call it “the university,” because which one it was really doesn’t matter. Now, as involved and in love with William and Mary as I am, it’s odd to remember that I almost didn’t attend William and Mary. I didn’t even want to go to college.
The summer before my senior year, I pretty much freaked out. I checked a giant college review book out of the library and literally went through the index, looking at every name and entering most of them into the internet. I made big lists and charts, and I got nowhere. Every so often I would think I had found “the One.” Then I would discover something terribly wrong with it.
See what really happened is I decided that for college I needed to find “the One” to survive. Perhaps it’s the copious television watching that convinced me that college was this life altering course charting experience that if I didn’t get exactly right would ruin my future happiness. If I found the right college I would suddenly be a crazy cool confident independent perfectly happy person. Yes, I kind of really thought that. So I went in search of “the One.”
When I couldn’t find the perfect school, I decided it was a sign that school was not the answer for me. I told my guidance counselor, my teachers, and my parents that I would not be attending college; instead I would take what most people call a “gap year.” I researched programs as far away as Australia and Africa. I’ll never quite understand the logic that drove me to think that as afraid as I was of going away to college, the 14 hour flight to Australia would be no big deal. Most people laughed at my plan, but I’ll always value those who took it seriously, because at that moment I really needed to believe there was something else out there.
Eventually, however, I realized that working at a zoo down under was not something I was quite ready for so I returned to my quest for the perfect college. I searched all over the place, from huge universities in the Northeast to small hippie colleges on the West coast. By the time senior year began I was in a panic, and solidly rejecting all of those who advised me to stop worrying.
Mostly what I remember from that time was total frustration. No one seemed to have the answer and kept telling me to go to William and Mary, and I really didn’t want to go (have I mentioned that my brother graduated from W&M and I didn’t want to spend more years being “the little sister of…”). At one point I even hatched a plan with another stressed out Senior that we would convince our favorite faculty to move to Pennsylvania and start up their own college.
I finally applied to five schools. William & Mary because my father, always a Tribe fan, required I apply to one school with the & symbol. The other schools were all relatively small liberal arts colleges within five hours of my house. I applied for a scholarship at “the other university,” which, after my rolling acceptance arrived, required me to drive down for an interview.
I thought I had finally found “the One.” I was so excited because I loved the little campus and the super friendly faculty. I knew I wanted to be like my tour guide there when I grew up (that was the first time I realized I really wanted to be tour guide one day too). As much as I wanted “the university” to be “the One” something refused to click. I loved walking around campus and talking to the faculty, but it didn’t feel like my campus, my faculty. Still, I was convinced I had found the college that would make that perfectly happy person.
That is until my acceptance letter from William and Mary arrived in the mail. Suddenly the school I had pre-rejected in my mind had me staying up reading all of the admissions info. I already knew the campus from visiting my brother, but I was scouring the map and reading all of the brochures. I went to admitted student’s day with a high-school friend and had an incredible time. I felt comfortable enough I even got up and learned to salsa from one of the dance clubs. I felt like I belonged.
I had decided on “the university” though, and I couldn’t imagine giving that up. I still remember a long talk with my guidance counselor, who was amazing throughout the whole process, where I showed her my pro-con lists and shared my confusion. She sat there and listened and then told me to make the decision that would make me happy today, not the one that I thought would fit this image of what I thought I needed to do be. So, after giving myself spring break to escape from college decisions, I chose the Tribe.
Sometimes I look back, not with regret, but with gratitude. If I hadn’t struggled with the decision as much as I had, and if I hadn’t gained the confidence of acceptance at “the university,” I am not sure I would have the courage to make the best decision for me. The fear of not making “the right decision” may have kept me from finding “the One.” Now, the idea of going anywhere else seems silly, because this campus is my home.
So tonight, I know that “the university” emblazoned on my t-shirt, was just one step on my journey to William & Mary.