Back in the late 1970s, most of the other students at the college I attended, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, were first-generation college students like me. This meant that feeling I belonged at UNC-A was considerably easier for me than feeling comfortable around my classmates in high school, where there were huge differences in social class. It wasn't that UNC-A students didn't come from a wide range of backgrounds, but rather, there was a critical mass of people like me, whose parents weren't professionals and who weren't well off. For this reason, it was easier to "be myself" than I think it would have been if I'd gone to a school like Bucknell.
It still took me until almost Thanksgiving my first year to meet my hall mates - we had no orientation to speak of, and I just didn't know how to "do" college. I studied all the time, and I learned a lot and did extremely well academically, but my weeks were pretty lonely. All of us on my hall had boyfriends elsewhere, so we tended not to stick around on weekends. Once I did emerge from my room, the sophomore and junior girls on the hall immediately took me under their wing, and I actually looked forward to going back to school in January to be with my new friends.
I didn't know much about majors or careers, either. At first I declared a psychology major, and I loved my psychology class best of all. But on one trip home my dad asked, "Why would you want to listen to other people's problems all day long?" I didn't have a ready answer for him, so I thought, hmm, maybe I don't. So I stuck with what was familiar, majoring in literature and aiming to be a teacher. At least I could envision what a teacher did all day! That worked out OK eventually, and it led me in a very roundabout way to college teaching and to my work at Bucknell, which I love. But I wish I'd known how to explore more, take more risks, even fail more, so I could learn from experience what I was good at and how to learn things that didn't come easily to me. I think a good thing about Bucknell is that the faculty encourage and support that kind of risk-taking.
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