Thursday, June 14, 2007

The biggest change

The theme chosen for this is Transitions.

This made me think. What was the biggest change in my life? Several natural choices are available: maternity, marriage, graduation... I first thought of discussing how it was to get tenure, something that was more important to me than marriage and children. Or maybe my first research result? My first paper on a toplevel journal? I finally concluded that no, it was none of the above.

The biggest change in my life was starting university. In particular, I remember the sunny morning when I found out I had been admitted.

Starting university in a top-level college meant that I overnight stopped being weird and became normal. I felt welcomed in a community which accepted me as I was, and didn't demand of me things that I couldn't or wouldn't do. Suddenly the fact that I don't understand much of fashion, or am clumsy in my movements, or have a very loud voice didn't count anymore. The shape of my nose and the size of my clothes stopped having any importance. What counted was my ability and willingness to work very hard, learn a lot, and eventually give my own contribution. I started respecting myself more.

The other key fact is that they paid me to do it. A few weeks after that sunny morning, I stopped being financially dependent on my parents: my grant included room and board, and some pocket money. Science has kept me ever since. Over the years, money was invested in me by a number of funding agencies, in my country and abroad: besides being useful in the obvious way, the money also helped me gain my parents' respect.

Not so long before starting university, I had seen the movie "Yentl" (yes, I'm old). As I stood there, contemplating my name in the list of the admitted, a song* from that movie resonated inside me: "There are moments you remember all your life. This is one of those moments".

*In the movie, the song celebrates the admission of a young woman (dressed as a man) to a male only school. It took me a long time to realize that it was appropriate in more than one way.


Twice said...

I had a similar experience starting college. I went to a science/math/engineering focused college, so the stuff that had previously defined me as weird instantly made me normal. For me, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I could be myself and feel comfortable doing so. Academic challege was new, exhilarating and oddly freeing.

Peggy said...

I also found going to college to be a wonderfully life changing experience. It wasn't just living away from home for the first time. It was also meeting so many other people interested in the same subjects I was, not to mention staying up half the night discussing books and philosophy and politics (and looking back I smile at our naivety and innocence). Yes there were students who mostly cared about finding a date or where the next party would be, but there were enough other people around that I could find my niche.