Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 19, 1997

Freshman Year Filled
With Play and Pain

Stacey Patton
Editorial Intern
Last weekend I had the opportunity to return for a visit to my high school, Lawrenceville Prep. It was great to see all my old friends and teachers. As I walked around the campus of the boarding school, I reminisced about my high school days. I experienced a lot there: changes in attitude and personality, physical and mental growth, athletic and academic successes. Lawrenceville marked the first major stage in my life when my horizon was broadened, and I began to see the world with mature eyes.

While at Lawrenceville, I talked to some of the graduating seniors about their hopes and expectations of college. I had to laugh to myself because they were mirror reflections of me this time last year. Like me, they had so many questions about the next major stage in their lives. And I had some thoughts to share.

Upon arriving at Hopkins I had expected my experience to be stressful and pretty well determined. I thought I'd be spending hours with my head buried in books, and playing sports the remainder of my time. But to my surprise my freshman experience was at times spontaneous and unpredictable.

I never expected to be writing for the university's newspaper. I never expected to red-shirt this season in basketball. I never expected to confront real issues that have been troubling my life for so long. I never expected to win the Centennial Conference javelin championship. I never expected to get a summer internship at The Baltimore Sun. But most of all, I never expected to learn so much about people, history, issues and life in such a short period of time.

I think most people "find themselves" in high school. It took my freshman year in college to find myself. I came to Hopkins with a great deal of baggage. I thought by moving to Baltimore I could outrun a lot of painful realities about my family and my past that I had to deal with in New Jersey. They caught up to me, though. So, on top of starting college, this was the year I began the healing process of being an abused child with too fine a memory for too many traumatic experiences. I came to accept my biological mother's suicide. I also came up with a redefinition of the meaning of "family." Before this year I always defined family in terms of either adoptive or biological relationships. However, I now realize that a family is what one makes of it.

Family consists of the people around you who love you and show interest in your life, and you in theirs. Family comes in all colors and personalities. I no longer believe that family is just blood ties. My family consists of friends. I have learned so well this year that friends are very important and essential for my survival. Maybe everyone's survival in some ways. I have learned that it doesn't do one any good to be antisocial or alone, no matter how painful the personal circumstances. I didn't realize that in high school.

This year I spent a lot of time revising my first novel, Somebody's Child. Doing this has helped me accept constructive criticism, which--I admit--has not always come easily to me. I know better now the art of listening, and I know the benefits of continuous writing. Both elements have helped me in the classroom. One of the best things I learned about Hopkins is that so much learning takes place beyond the walls of the classroom.

As a freshman I never expected to conduct my own research projects. In the fall I conducted a project with children in the welfare system. In the spring I conducted a project with Black males as outsiders in urban society. Conducting primary research has been most rewarding because I have learned first-hand why things in our society are the way they are.

Some of the things I know now will go a long way toward improving my understanding of life. I learned that race is an ideology--it's not real; that there is a very small difference between myself and someone homosexual; and that it doesn't pay to buy into stereotypes. The most important lesson I've learned is that we should use history as an example, move on, celebrate in the present tense, and improve the future.

Like any experience worth living, this year had its down sides. This year I dealt with severe depression brought on mostly by long festering family problems. However, participating in therapy has helped me to gain appreciation of the things I have and to stop focusing on all the losses in my life. My depression blocked my perspective on life and the important people surrounding me. It also forced me to take off this basketball season, which for a hoops hotdog was a tough call.

Of course, I had my fair share of fun times, too. While under the moonlight one night I was frightened by an unrecognizable animal and was forced to sprint all the way back to my dormitory.

Sitting around a table at dinner time with my friends, debating with each other and laughing about the weirdest topics, was always exhilarating. Getting my pants pulled down during one of my first basketball practices still makes me laugh to this day.

Despite--maybe because of--everything, I have grown, and I can't wait to begin my third semester at Hopkins this fall as a sophomore. But I believe my freshman year will probably be the one I remember as being the most difficult and the most intriguing.

But I said that last year, too.

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage