Boldly Baldwin word mark

Amanda (Stefano) Dudak

Year of Entry: 2003 Age at Entry: 16 Hometown: Scottsville, New York

What It Means To Be A PEG

Amanda Dudak

Shortly after turning 16, exhilarated and terrified, I moved into my college dormitory. I was five hundred miles from my home and everything I had known. I had been accepted into the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) at Mary Baldwin College, an unusual experience, but one that has done a tremendous amount to shape who I was to become.

PEG gave me an amazing opportunity to grow beyond the world I had experienced growing up. Neither of my parents attended college, only one of them finished high school, and the future where I grew up did not include a college education. From an early age, I remember dreaming of science and medicine and things so much greater than what I saw around me. Though my parents really didn’t understand why I was so interested in learning, they supported that unquenchable curiosity until the time when they had no more answers to my questions. Not many fifteen year olds would come home from community college trying to persuade their mom that this women’s college a couple hundred miles from home is the most perfect place on the planet, but that was me. As so often before, they helped me find the answer to my “what next?” question, and before I knew it, PEG was my new home.

My New Home

And, I do mean home. I had never really had the opportunity to explore who I was on a personal level with the same people I conversed with on a more intellectual level. I could just walk down the hall, talk with someone about this really confusing section in immunology about how I just couldn’t understand VDJ gene recombination in the maturation of B cells, and at the same time, I talk about how it was only eight more months until I was going to be old enough to drive. Until PEG, I had lived life as two separate people. There was the old me who took classes at community college, used the grown up section of the library, and had a part-time job. Then there was the teenage me, who still had braces, wanted desperately to drive (Could we have lived any further away from everything?), and occasionally felt absolutely awkward. I don’t think I could have experienced the unique mix of personal development, self-edification, and intellectual  growth I found at PEG anywhere else.

Although my years at PEG were some of the happiest of my life, I struggled through some very difficult personal challenges there as well. My mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer when I was twelve, and although she was doing well when I left for school, she had a relapse during my freshman year. My father also left our family during that time. I struggled with my decision to attend PEG, even going so far as to think that if only I had stayed home, things would have turned out better. But it was the outpouring of support and encouragement from not only the PEG staff, but my friends and the faculty at Baldwin that helped me to see that there was nothing I could do to change what happened. When my mother passed away during my junior year, I had so much sympathy and support that many well-wishes got lost in the tide, but I will never forget the package from the PEGs. I got a card from the staff, with a note not to worry about exams (because only a PEG would be seriously worried them at a time like that), some homemade cookies from one of the amazingly talented bakers we had (PEGs are either great cooks, or cannot cook at all), and a CD of “songs that make Stefano smile”. I remember listening to that CD and feeling for the first time in days that my life wasn’t horrible, that it would get better, and that I could not wait to go back home.

Though it has been a few years since I graduated, I know that when I call the office to ask for another written explanation of what PEG is, and how it works, I will know the person I’m talking to, and they will know me. I can email my advisor and let him know that I’m in med school, and I got a paper published and things are going well, and he actually remembers who I am. That I can meet up with old PEG friends who I really didn’t have much in common with back in school, and who I really don’t have anything in common with now, and we can still talk and hang out for hours, just because we’re PEGs. That is what it means to be a PEG. We’re not all the same, but we’re our own little clan.