College as a Savanna

If you could change one choice you have made since coming to Carnegie Mellon, what would it be and how would you be different because of it?

I would have seen my time at Carnegie Mellon as an exploration of a savanna rather than a jog down a trail. When I began college, I believed I needed to follow a well-worked path to be a good student and so I sought out trails to follow (a checklist of class to a major, a flowchart of courses for general education). As a junior, I see my time at Carnegie Mellon as my first steps onto life’s savanna. An advisor may point to a mountain and say: “follow the path to that mountain—walk there, it is a good place to be.” Because I am an independent traveler, I question every part of that statement. Perhaps my savanna has no paths but the ones I choose to walk.

Using the savanna as a metaphor for college helps me understand the importance of groups and of finding my own definition of success. Group travel is safer on the savanna because the community protects itself from the prowling lions of economic uncertainty and the wallowing hippos of stress. The savanna also allows me a broad horizon of success metrics. Perhaps it was good I never made it to my mentor’s mountain; the conversation I had with friends under the acacia tree taught me things I could not have learned on the mountain.

Perhaps all of this is to say I wish I had been more open-minded in my academic and extracurricular choices, but a glance at my interests in the past two and a half years tells the lie in this. The choice I would have changed is not in my understanding of my own mind, but in my understanding of Carnegie Mellon. Though I now see hundreds ways of being, choices of study, assumption of attitude and definitions of achievement at Carnegie Mellon, I believe I would have been a more content person if I had started college with a savanna sized view of its possibilities, rather than a trail-size one.

This was my answer to a question on my application for CMU’s 5th Year Scholars Program. All of today and large parts of the past two weeks have been devoted to this application. I just sent it in. I can never decide on nights like these (after finishing a possibly life-changing application) whether I want to go play basketball, eat a bucket of chocolate ice-cream, get lost in a trashy novel, or just collapse in exhaustion. I think I’ll do some reading about the Middle East and go to bed. I’m granting myself an exception to my 1 post a day rule for today (it’s no longer the 29th in Doha), in light of my amazing application efforts. I’ll triple post tomorrow.

Inspirational Quote:

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.–Amanda Ripley, “What Makes a Great Teacher?”


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