What is the link between Lehigh’s ever-receding past and ever-written present?
Up until this point, my column has explored ideas related to Lehigh history — what I’ve called “Lost Stories.” Some of these brief snippets have perhaps defined this institution: the urban renewal of South Bethlehem, incitement of change in the public square, sustainable futures, natural world offerings, and divine, undrinkable waterways.
Linking them all, I’d argue, is the theme of historical choice and its consequences.
But the problem with treating history as an abstract past is it becomes emotionless, or rather humanized on a grander scale. When we empathize with entire groups and generations, individual people, individual decisions and individual stories get lost.
I want to use this last entry to tell you about my story, my choice to attend Lehigh and my choice to leave it so soon.
While attending my Florida high school I did not know of Lehigh University. I knew ambition, my old friend, and I knew how to disguise my idealistic heart with rationale. And because I believed I had what colleges were looking for, I convinced myself I deserved the likes of the Ivy League, or at least owed it to myself to reach for more — something more than a state-school in Florida.
The college admissions office was, for me, the pundit of righteous choice, the all-knowing seat of decision that could never make a wrong turn. And if I would only be righteous in my desire, I’d be let through. Perhaps most toxic was my belief that my fulfillment as an individual depended on where I went to school.
But as the decision letters came, there went my traction on truth.
I recall a phone conversation with my Lehigh admissions confidant just after I’d been wait-listed. Waiting for his call, I hurled aimless shots at a wonky basketball rim in the swampy boonies of rural Florida. It was to be a tranquil weekend getaway for the family, courtesy of my dad.
Except we didn’t stay. The hellish gnats had already colonized the vicinity and drove us off. This dismal scene was the backdrop of my falling out with college admissions.
Then I got the phone call. I held back tears, listening to the words on the other end. Even he had detected the defeat in my voice. Though he offered no concrete answers to all the rejection letters and waitlists, I was given hope.
All is not lost, he said. I was better than to let defeat consume me.
I trace my acceptance into Lehigh back to that moment, when someone believed enough in me and gave me that chance, something I’ll forever be grateful for. And, yes, I’m leaving after just one year, but Lehigh was not a mistake for me.
The first semesters of college are downright hard, and to be brief, I think Lehigh is a place that made my time exceptionally difficult. I quickly realized the utopic college experience I was always after perhaps didn’t exist, which made for a hard fall. It was suddenly not worth it to chase down concepts instead of realities.
This is exactly what colleges sell: concepts. The Ivy League is a concept, a brand, and Lehigh is no different, nor is any state-school. The college experience you have is not compatible with any concept that’s sold because it’s a reality. These four years are tangible.
In my reality, Lehigh is not worth it, in every sense of the term.
I no longer require its reputation, its opportunities or privilege. And where I’m going next, University of Florida, the place I once deliberately fled, certainly sells its concepts. But now I know better than to give in. Mountain Hawk or Gator, I’m Elliott Nasby first.
But I say thank you, Lehigh, for challenging my character in ways I couldn’t have experienced anywhere else. I say thank you, Lehigh, for making me uncomfortable, sad, grateful, happy, confused, lost, but most of all, at peace. I say thank you Lehigh, for helping me grow.
I’ve learned from my time here that I am capable of thriving anywhere, regardless of how fertile the soil may be. The path ahead is by no means guaranteed, but Lehigh has equipped me with tools to create the college experience I want, even if that means leaving. For that I am at peace.
My choices can never be perfect, but I cling to this line from Czech writer Milan Kundera as motivation to strive for the best possible life I might lead: “We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.”
Let Lehigh take this to heart as I have.
Elliott Nasby, ’20, is an assistant sports editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.