Lost and Found: On Graduate Life at SLC

“It is September and I am lost again. I sit eating Frosted Flakes – no milk, straight out of the box – at a table that is not mine (legs wobbling at sudden movements). Around me the room is sparsely littered with the things I have carried from place to place – a miniature Tibetan elephant statue, an eight-year old jade plant, the requisite IKEA globe lamp – but it is otherwise wholly unfamiliar. The black and white checkered linoleum flooring is dusty and stained and I hate the way it turns my bare feet a sickly color gray as I swish them beneath me. I find myself, an ‘emerging adult.’”

I wrote those words as a lead-in to the first essay I drafted for my first workshop as a graduate writing student here at Sarah Lawrence. What strikes me about them now is how relevant they remained for most of my first year. Here I was, 25, in yet another new environment, lost trying to find myself. I lived alone in a small apartment just north of Bronxville (thank God for my dog) and I spent most days moving kind of catatonically between classes and the restaurant where I worked (and where everyone was miserable), trying to navigate the maze of angry New Yorkers that is Westchester.

Though I felt like I was growing as a writer (the classes and workshops have been every bit as worthwhile as I’d hoped), as a person, I felt stuck. Taking advantage of New York City is tough on a budget, and having a social life is hard when the people you engage with throughout the week could live anywhere from Jersey to upstate New York, and most of them have full or part-time jobs, lives to attend to outside of the classroom. And, while the graduate studies program makes a very concerted effort to involve its students in a Sarah Lawrence community, the resulting community [diff word?] is definitely one independent and apart from the rest of campus.

I don’t think that the undergraduate community is at odds with the graduate one; I just think that the difference in time and place of life for the respective members makes mingling a challenge. Every effort I’ve made to become involved in some facet (theater auditions, the poetry festival, T.A.ing) of Sarah Lawrence outside of my grad student bubble has been welcomed, though it doesn’t always pan out. Schedules and priorities, experience and goals dictate the places and activities on which any student can expend what little excess time and energy they have left. While I’d love to go to more shows or check out one of those “Stitch and Bitch” sessions, realistically I’m too worried about my most recent job application or thesis deadline.

Plain and simply, graduate school isn’t Asher Roth’s college and I think that no matter where you are, be it a tiny place like Sarah Lawrence or a huge university, grad and undergrad are two different worlds that just happen to occupy a same space. What they do get from and give to each other, especially at SLC, however, is a certain dynamism. The creative energy that pulses between the two worlds is palpable and inspiring. As a (now) second year grad student, though I am on campus less (fewer classes, more thesis-ing), I get much more of a sense of intimacy when I am there. Perhaps this is simply because of the familiarity that grows with time, but I think that it has more to do with an acceptance and understanding of what I want to get out of my tenure at this place. Two years is fleeting. I’m not looking to set down roots; I’m looking to stretch my wings. So far, it’s been quite the workout.

[Featured Image by Hey There Spaceman]

A die-hard "Jersey girl" turned part-time Vermonter, Courtney is currently pursuing her graduate degree in Nonfiction Writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She received her undergraduate degree from Villanova University and has worked for a variety of nonprofits, primarily those geared toward environmental awareness. Courtney is a freelance writer and contributes regularly to Pork and Mead, Patch.com, and Groupon.

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