|Year of Entry: 2000
||Age at Entry: 14
||Hometown: Crawfordsville, Indiana
Eleven and a half years ago, I was a 14-year-old girl sitting in the back of a rented Dodge Stratus listening to the original Broadway cast recording of Rent on my portable CD player. I had listened to the cd so many times during that ten hour drive that my parents had relegated it to “headphones only” status, but I loved La Vie Boheme. I love the idea of the Lower East Side and the gritty streets of New York. I’d never been there, but I knew that I’d feel at home.
We drove through most of the night and arrived in Staunton, Virginia, during an early February snowfall. I had talked my parents into taking me from our home in the Midwest to interview for an early college entrance program. I hated high school. I didn’t really know why. I knew that I was bored and unhappy. My all honors classes were too easy, and my classmates were cruel. More than that, I knew that I needed to get out.
Within a month I received my acceptance letter. I was at home sick from school with the flu, but it didn’t seem to matter as soon as that heavy manila envelope was dropped through the mail slot on our front door. I screamed with glee and spent the next 10 minutes calling my parents at work. They were elated too, but now we faced a new set of challenges. We needed to figure out how to let go, and how to put me through college.
I graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science almost three years later. At 17, I had no idea what I wanted. I had taken the classes that I wanted to take and had best friends for the first time in my life, but I still wasn’t aware at all of the options that were truly available to me. I stayed in school and after a year of studying studio art, I started a PhD program in International Relations.
If there was one thing that the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) at Mary Baldwin College gave me, it was a sense of confidence and a resourcefulness that would repeatedly give me courage to make bold decisions. It also taught me that I was worth more than unhappiness and desperation. I needed to trust myself, and my instincts. It gave me the courage to leave graduate school when I’d realized that it was leading me toward a life that I didn’t want. And my early college experience taught me that when I actually put my mind to things, I was unlikely to fail. Whether it was if I was up for a part in a school play, or if I wanted to graduate in three years instead of four, I usually got what I wanted and worked for. The secret is failing isn’t really the worst of the innumerable options. The worst case scenario is never having tried. The worst case scenario was never leaving the little Midwestern city where I grew up.
At 22, I moved to New York City. I had $3500 in the bank, and after working my first soulless job for a few months I figured that I didn’t really have anything else to lose. I didn’t want to live in the Midwest, and I was never going to be younger or freer to leave. “Why not?” I thought. “Worst case scenario, I wind up a 22-year-old returning home to my parent’s house for a few months.” Having seen several of my high school friends do the same thing, it didn’t seem to be an unrespectable place to fall.
I didn’t land there, though. Within weeks I landed a job, and then another a few months later. I kept sleeping on a friend’s futon in a one bedroom apartment, and we split the rent. Eventually I wound up landing a tech job with an internet advertising agency. I spend my days putting together and analyzing campaigns for clients across the country. It is the kind of job that I could never have dreamed of at 14. In truth, I am sure that at 14 it wouldn’t have been my dream.
But dreams change, and I live in a city I love. I’m surrounded by friends, and a woman that I am very much in love with- another writer and theatre enthusiast- that I met working in the same Midtown Manhattan building.
I’m 25 now. And I make a living. I am paying down my student loan debts. Most importantly I learned how to keep learning, and how to challenge myself. I’m happy. I spent last night dancing during curtain call of a Broadway musical. Maybe it wasn’t entirely the way that I dreamed it would be, but it was pretty perfect.