I flew to a city I had never been to, went to a school I had never been to, met people I didn’t know, but over this last weekend I have felt more comfortable and accepted than I ever have.
It was a Friday morning, October 14th. I rose from bed early, washed my face, got dressed, and checked my luggage. This was not going to be an ordinary Friday. Instead of getting my backpack, I got my suitcase. Instead of wearing my usual jeans and sweater, I put on a shirt, tie, and khakis. I even spent time making breakfast, which is normally an afterthought in my mornings. Finally, instead of leaving for school, I left for the airport.
After a few expectedly frustrating hours at the airport, I arrived in Andover, Massachusetts. It was around one in the afternoon. I spent a half hour in the baggage claim are waiting for Elise’s flight to come in. Once she arrived, we called our cab and departed for the Andover Inn. This was my first time meeting Elise, my colleague in the event that warranted my flight to Andover. I quickly learned about her post-doctoral research at the University of Toronto and her five years at Stanford. The conversation indubitably converged on the topic of the latter school as it was her alma mater and my top college prospect. Through the whole half hour we spent in the cab, I listened intently as Elise described her work at Stanford and U Toronto.
After we arrived at the Andover Inn, Elise checked into her room. With a few hours to waste, we strolled to downtown Andover and grabbed lunch at an Italian restaurant. If there ever was a movie-style small northeastern town compplete with colonial architecture and multicolored leaves I was in it. Around three, we headed back to the inn and met Frank, the teacher organizing the event, and Gabbi, the student star who warranted my presence here. Frank welcomed us to his town and explained the itinerary for the night: In a few hours we would have dinner in the dining hall at Phillip’s Academy, our trip’s destination. Before the evening engagement though, Gabbi gave me a quick tour of campus and introduced me to some friends.
Phillips Academy is reminiscent of an 18th century city square, except with fewer top hats and carriages. This is probably because it was founded in the late seventeen hundreds. A ring of old brick buildings stood tall and broad, encircling an expansive green lawn, dubbed West Quad. High spires jutted through a sea of trees, mostly ancient oaks hundreds of years old. After a stroll, we ended up outside the dining hall and it was time for dinner. After grabbing my food, I skirted around the main dining room I made my way to the Grey room, which was reserved for the dinner I was attending. I entered, found my seat, and greeted the already present Frank, Elise, and Benoit, my second colleague.
For time’s sake, I will skip over dinner as it holds little importance to my story. It was pleasant and the food was admirable. Now, once dinner ended, the entire room, which includes my colleagues, frank, and a host of students and faculty, took a quick trip across campus to Kemper Auditorium for Gabbi’s presentation. This was the reason I was here.
Gabbi Fisher, a student of Phillip’s Academy, had written a paper over the summer through a special scholarship program from the school. The finale of her scholarship involved a big presentation of the paper, complete with a three person discussion panel: me, Elise, and Benoit. Her paper, titled The Real Within the Virtual: The Evolution of Social Media and its Effects on LGBTQ Youth, set the theme for the evening. It was 47 pages of hard research and intelligent observation, with the last ten or so pages filled with citations, to give an idea of the level of professionalism this girl brought to her paper.
After Gabbi’s presentation, Frank took to the mic, introduced the panel, and I found my seat. And then I realized what I was doing. I had been invited to a city hundreds of miles away to discuss a paper and bring my viewpoints to a discussion with a New York Times constributor and a post-doctoral fellow because of a blog I help run. I felt like I had finally entered that real world that adults always allude to. And I felt I had done it right.
This presentation was the first of many enriching experiences I gained on the trip. I understand the attention span of most internet surfers, so for purposes of brevity, I’ve split my trip up into two posts. Read part 2 here.