I have an intellectual streak. I had it as a child, and I had it when at the tender age of not-quite-eighteen, I went to college. There it presented a problem.
I excelled academically, but socially I struggled to find a foothold. In a classroom of forty people, I struggled to make myself heard and to find satisfactory answers to my questions. At the end of my sophomore year, with a GPA of 3.9 and what my mother would later describe as a “massive chip on my shoulder,” I transferred from my fairly prestigious public university to Cornell.
Cornell was much smaller than my previous school, and the campus culture couldn’t have been more different. At Cornell, I was surrounded by people who, like me, could go from drinking games to discussing the finer points of Boccaccio in seconds. I studied the classics, and, to this day, I wouldn’t call anything a party that doesn’t end in someone insulting Cicero in language unfit for children.
That being said, I would never claim that the friends I had in the Ivy League were smarter than the friends I had had previously. They’d had better GPAs in high school, yes, but undergrads are undergrads no matter what school they attend. My first year at Cornell, my roommate dated a fellow student who was nearly expelled for lighting tennis balls on fire and throwing them at passing cars. “Smart” isn’t the word I would use to describe that.
What was different about Cornell, though, was that it provided me with ample opportunity to satisfy my aforementioned intellectual streak. In a state flagship university, there are plenty of chances to engage in intellectual pursuits, but only if you seek them out. Such opportunities aren’t part of day-to-day life at Cornell, and that, in the end, was what made all the difference for me. I calmed down and, when I graduated and left Ithaca, New York to return to my hometown, I stayed calm.
That ended up being a great blessing, as I didn’t find a career in my field right away. Once, that sort of setback would have sent me into a tailspin of despair, but I took it well enough. I found another job and worked until a position more suited to my education opened up. It was a long wait, even with the fancy degree, but it was worth it. I’m now happier than I’ve ever been, and I credit much of that to my education.