There's something about Case that I consider its best kept secret. It's something I didn't really get a picture of until Orientation, something that even now I'm uncovering in slow and sure steps, something I'm proud of more and more each day. At Case, you're not just a student at a challenging and unique university. You're not just getting a great education, with amazing opportunities and incredible people. All of those things are certainly true, but what no one seems to tell you until you get here is how much of a community Case is.
I feel like I truly experienced that a few weeks ago. It was National Coming Out Week, a time for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth across America to seek support and understanding from their family, friends, and peers. In light of the tragic and highly publicized deaths of several LGBT youth this past month, it came around this year with a bittersweet mixture of celebration and mourning.
Although I'm not LGBT, I consider myself a proud Ally and have been active in promoting acceptance and awareness since high school. Because of this, it was particularly heartening when I came to Case to see our local Spectrum chapter encouraging students to get involved, be proud and comfortable with their sexuality, and foster a positive community for everyone at CWRU. With the grand opening of Case's LGBT Center this fall, it seems that our campus is making more and more progress towards that positive and accepting community.
Spectrum's activities for Coming Out Week were phenomenal. Along with supportive community members, faculty, staff, and visitors, they helped garner support for a candlelight vigil to remember those who were lost to suicide. Other events that week included a mixer especially for Allies, painting of a banner for the CWRU community, and a speed dating event that encouraged individuals of any sexuality to show up and have fun.
The solidarity at events like the vigil was clear and present. There was no doubt in my mind that I was both part of a fantastic community for members of every sexuality, but that I was also part of a greater community that defines what it means to be part of CWRU. Events like this make me genuinely proud to call Case my home, and especially to call Case my community.
My fraternity chapter at Case Western, Sigma Phi Epsilon, annually hosts a 24 Flag Football Marathon as our philanthropy event to raise money for our local philanthropy, The Free Clinic of Greater Cleveland. Last year, as a freshman, I was slowly getting acclimated to college life and exactly how SigEp operates as a group. Because of this, I only spent about 4 hours in the middle of the night hanging out at Freiberger Field with some of my other brothers.
This year was a little different; as VP Programming, I was bestowed with the responsibility for planning and running the event when I returned to campus in August. Well, I was not expecting that over the summer. Remind you, at the point where I figured out I had to head this up, I had little to no idea on exactly how the event is conducted. So yes, what ensued was a great experience to learn, grow and stress myself out unnecessarily! For those that haven’t figured it out yet, I’m blessed with the gift of taking everything a little too seriously. Yes this plays to my advantage for the majority of my endeavors, however it occasionally gets the best of me.
This year we had 26 teams signup and play during the 24 hour time period this weekend. Between their entry fees and the money collected from the raffle during the tournament, we raised $1500! Compared to last year, we raised an extra $500 this time around. It was one of those moments where you can exactly sit back, recap, and know your hard work paid off!
Nothing personifies me taking the event too seriously more than the fact that I was at the event for a solid 18 or so hours. Definitely promised myself I wouldn’t, but I did anyway. However, I survived, and I had a very good time throughout the event. I didn’t want to leave because I was having fun, not because I felt like the event would fail without me (for the most part).
Here are some of my favorite pictures from the event:
One thing that I've noticed as my time at Case has quickly progressed is that with each day, you become more and more independent. The things you do, the decisions you make, the people you meet. They all have an effect on who you're going to be in the future. What your parents want and expect from you slowly fades away into background noise. It's all you now. And with that, there's never been a better opportunity to grow, to take your life by the reins and steer it into the way you want it, and here are the events that have helped me make these realizations.
It began with a fashion show for breast cancer. One of my good friends asked me to go to help her take photos. I've never attended a fashion show before. Basically, what happened was, I agreed to go despite the fact that saying so was a bit out of my comfort zone. We were then invited to dinner with two of her friends in the industry. We tagged along, and I could safely say that the two people that I met that evening completely changed the way I saw things.
The first one was a successful sales man and an owner of a t-shirt design company. He grew up in a less than ideal household, but still managed to get himself into Cleveland Institute of Art with just about all the scholarships and awards out there. He ended up dropping out of school to become a successful business man working in sales. I've always been taught that your education is the most important investment you could ever make. Here was a man who was able to make enough money to not think twice about buying his mother and sister cars, as well as start up a t-shirt design company so he could pursue his love for art. He did all this without a college degree.
The second person I dined with was a model in the fashion show. After observing the conversations during dinner, I learned that she was an actress as well. She was coming out with two movies, and her face was plastered on countless advertisements and magazines. She was, in every sense of the word, famous. Although I didn't get to learn about her background as in depth, I did learn that she defied the stereotypes of her culture. She was headstrong, and willing to break away from others like her. She worked hard and rose quickly in the industry. She too was successful.
Now, at this point of the night, as I'm savoring the taste of the kobe burger in my mouth, I was completely awed by their stories, their persona. How could these two people be so successful, yet so young, especially in this economy. I was suddenly slapped across the face by the opportunity stick. Here I was chewing on this delicious burger when I could have been learning from these two individuals. Two individuals who were successful, completely in charge with their own lives, and pretty much where I wanted to be in the future. With that, I began to pick their brains. I learned so much from those conversations. I took away numerous life lessons, but ultimately, I took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself.
How could I have been able to meet these people, talk with them, have dinner with them? Opportunity. That's what you get in college that you don't get anywhere else in your life. Sure you can say you can get a quality education, or friends that you'll have throughout your lives, but it's the opportunities that life presents you during this crucial period in your life that makes college so worthwhile. It is, however, another thing to notices these opportunities when they walk right beside. It takes courage, it takes a large personal bubble. You'll soon realize that it'll be worth it.
So that's what college really is. It's more than the friends, the fun. It's more than getting a good college degree. It's all about opportunity and what you make of it. It's about growing, letting these opportunities shape you for success.
Of all the things people told me I'd do my freshman year of college, the one thing I never believed was that I'd change my major. I knew people who changed their major five times between Tuesday and Saturday, people who were in the midst of having an existential crisis, and people who just had no clue which way was up, much less what major they were. I, on the other hand, was convinced that my life plan was set. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I knew exactly how to get there.
Well...almost anyway. The first semester, I realized that even though I still wanted to get an Education degree, that maybe French and Francophone Studies wasn't for me and that I wanted to study History instead. I threw myself into my new major, taking classes with weekly papers, planning courses three or four semesters in advance, and convincing myself that nineteen credit hours for the rest of my undergraduate career was not only physically possible, but also sane and rational.
And then, after figuring my schedule out, buying all my books, and confidently reading the first couple of chapters for my brand new history classes this semester, I had an epiphany. As I sat in one of my classes on the very first day, my mind drifted. A bizarre train of thought, combined with not enough sleep, and a general malaise about the course material resulted in a moment of clarity in which I realized that things didn't have to be the way I'd planned. Just because I'd had the same life plan for the past couple of years didn't mean that I couldn't change what I wanted whenever I wanted, and I suddenly found that I wanted to. So I went home and promptly dropped all my history courses and picked up some Psych courses.
Psychology was, to be honest, kind of one of those obvious ideas that I didn't see until I ran right into it. I love my classes now; studying doesn't feel like work, I go on dorky little tangents to my friends about what I'm learning in class (which I'm sure they love), and I am genuinely excited about the courses that I'm looking at for next semester. I have a whole new idea of what I want to do with my life, but what's most liberating about it is that I'm not entirely sure. And I'm okay with that.
I never thought that I'd change my major. But here I am, after hemming and hawing for two and a half semesters, finally ready to declare my major in Psychology, something I had never considered studying before a month or so ago. I guess that the lesson that I learned is that it's okay to change your mind. Whether you change your major every five minutes or you never change it in five years, it's perfectly fine. You're not the same person from one moment to the next, and if you wake up one day and find that you want to be different, nothing's stopping you but yourself. And I've got to say, I think that's kind of awesome.
So if you consistently read my blog, you may be getting to the point where you’re saying to yourself, “This kid always talks about Case as one of the best choices he has made and blah, blah, blah.” Well although it may be annoying it is the truth. Currently as I am writing this, I am in Austin, Texas hanging out in a hotel lobby, enjoying the complementary services provided by the hotel. You may be wondering how I ended up in Texas when I go to school in Cleveland, Ohio and still call my hometown Buffalo, New York. Well to answer your question, I am here because I have a poster presentation at the BMES annual meeting this weekend. If you do not know what BMES is, that is okay; I had not a clue coming into college. BMES stands for the Biomedical Engineering Society, I will not go into too much detail, but look it up its some cool stuff. It is a way of networking between other biomedical engineers and yearly they have a meeting at some exotic location (thus Austin, Texas. I believe next year’s is in Connecticut). The best part of the entire thing is that I am here for “free” and everything about this trip is a learning and personally growing experience for myself.
So at this point, you may be wondering, “Why of all people is Alex there?” and “How do you manage something like that?” Well it is pretty simple, as a freshman I took advantage of a lab opening that was offered through one of my classes, BME 105 and with that, I was able to get involved in a lab setting and even do some of my own research over the summer and get paid! Yes I know this doesn’t happen to everybody, but I’m really nothing all that different than average. All I really did was take advantage of the opportunities laid out in front of me.
I started writing this blog halfway through my trip, and I am now finishing it on the plane ride home, and I have to say that was a very rewarding trip. I arrived in Austin on Wednesday night and am now on my way back to Cleveland on Saturday. This morning was my poster presentation that I have been working on over the last month or so. This picture shows me standing next to my poster in the exhibit hall.
As you can see, I blurred the poster for privacy reasons; if you are interested I can email you my abstract
On purpose I set my expectations very low, I mean who wants to listen to an inexperienced sophomore talk about his summer research project? As it turns out, my expectations were shattered and my poster was visited by 10-12 people who were legitimately interested in what I had to say (I was expecting 1-2, I was warned about having a low turnout just because it was the last day of the conference). It is very cool when you are able to have an intelligent conversation with an MIT graduate student about the research that I have been doing.
One last thing I noticed about this conference was the name recognition Case Western brings to an event like that. It was pretty standard that all introductions at the event involved an exchange of names, schools and what your research was about. One thing that was consistent across the board was that every time I mentioned I went to Case Western, whoever I was talking to either gave a nod of approval or recognized the caliber school Case was verbally. They immediately took whatever I had to say that much more seriously because Case Western has a reputation for great research and students.
I really have to thank my lab director as well as the grad student I have been working with over these months for getting me all the way to Austin, Texas this weekend. Honestly these things are possible if you take on a few challenges at a place like Case that leaves opportunity on the table for everyone (even undergraduates) to have a shot at. I cannot wait to attend my next BMES.
There's something that I've noticed in the past couple of months that I wasn't quite ready for when I headed off to college. Something that I knew was inevitable, but still surprised me a little once I fully realized it. My hometown doesn't feel like my hometown any more.
Granted, I still love going home. My house is probably going to feel like MY house for a while longer; I have so many positive memories from being a little kid to starting my first year of high school to that final golden summer before college. But I no longer get that feeling of being at home while walking around my hometown.
I think I noticed this most when I went home this weekend to see my high school's Homecoming game and to watch my high school marching band play their new Journey show. I walked into the band hallway of my high school, greeting some of the seniors who I am still friends with from my time there. But I no longer felt at home, I no longer felt inherently welcome. Instead, I felt like an outsider. The band wasn't my band anymore. I was an alumna who happened to be in town, and I got a few hellos from good friends and old acquaintances. But for the most part, it was clear that as I left to start a new chapter, life had continued at home, and it has left me behind.
I won't say that this didn't make me a little bit sad. I watched the band on the field and was itching to put on my old uniform and have just one last game and one last performance. Staying at home that night, I had twinge of nostalgia for fall at home and all of the fun things that meant.
But by the time I got back to CWRU on Saturday, I fully appreciated why this sudden development is okay, and even a good thing. When I got home, I was greeted by a number of my sisters. When I got home, I got to hear about all the awesome Homecoming highlights, see the pictures, and congratulate my sister Emily on her making it to Homecoming Court. When I got home, I got to spend an amazing evening with my boyfriend and the brothers of Sigma Nu. Most importantly, when I got home to CWRU, I felt like I was home.
I guess the lesson in all of this is that it's okay to move on from your life in high school. The fact that you don't keep in touch with 100% of your friends, that you don't participate in all the activities that you once did, or that you don't spend as much time at home as you once did doesn't make you a totally different person. You'll still have all of the great memories you made in high school. But college will give you so many opportunities to become an even better person, to make amazing friends, and to make fantastic memories. Remembering the past fondly should never hold you back from all that the future can offer.