I recently went back to my Alma Mater to visit friends, and it felt… Well it didn’t really feel like anything. The place was the same, but without the people I knew during my three years there, that was all it was. A location. A physical space where things could happen, and did happen. I was expecting to be filled with warm fuzzies as I passed landmarks on campus, but even when I tried to force myself to feel something, I was ultimately unsuccessful. I think the sad truth is, I do not have a strong connection with UMass Amherst.
When I stop to think about how little the school means to me, I get really uncomfortable. A little voice in my head tells me that I should have some life-long bond with the other graduates of UMass Amherst, but the vast majority of them will never be people that I identify with. I know for a fact that it is not the same with other schools. My girlfriend recently graduated from Vassar, and my time on that campus was always marked by tinges of jealousy due to the camaraderie that the students clearly shared with one another. They lived in a Hogwartsian wonderland steeped in tradition and legend and saturated with humanist discourse.
So why do I not regret going to a state school? Why do I feel like I belonged at a university known for its harsh Cold War architecture and for the student body’s drunken antics? The first and most obvious reason is an economic one. My family has never been very well off, and the fantasy of going to a school that costs 50,000 a year would have quickly turned into a nightmare. I was able to graduate with a degree without a significant amount of debt, which is something that most students aren’t able to say. The self-selected defenders of Liberal Arts colleges would probably wax poetic on how education is worth any cost, and that a high tuition should not stop students from following their chosen calling. These men and women forget that high-minded idealism doesn’t put food on the table, and that some of us had to eat rice and frozen vegetables two meals a day because that was all that we could afford.
Sure I might have a chip on my shoulder, but I cannot help but be proud of who I became at UMass. I survived a Massachusetts winter when we couldn’t afford to heat our house. I learned to work in the library when I couldn’t afford a computer, and I organized parties instead of going to them in order to stay social without spending money. I made friends with some of the most down to earth people that I know. The kind of people who would laugh in your face if you suggested that we “problematize” a “social construct”. Not because they couldn’t understand you, but because they understand that you are full of shit. The kind of people who can out-think you while they out-drink you, and who can have more fun, and do more, with less.
Just like in the rest of life, you get as much out of your time in university as the amount of time that you put in, regardless of whether its at a state school or in the Ivy League. If you work your ass off, even if you aren’t remarkably bright, good things tend to happen. I was lucky enough to find professors who were willing to help me through writing a thesis, and that ninety page brick of research is something that I will always be proud of. With their help, I was able to end up here, in Turkey, with a Fulbright Fellowship and a path to a bright future.
So sure, I don’t have a strong attachment to my home university, but that doesn’t mean that I am not thankful for what I learned there. I was able to succeed and learn more about myself without drowning in debt, and I had a good time doing it. I feel like my time in a state school made me a well-rounded individual, because my key isn’t just the golden symbol of Phi Beta Kappa, but also the one that has 29 brothers in the case in the fridge.