Shay Harris—It’s a question I’ve gotten a few times while walking backwards and giving a tour of my lovely campus, currently under construction. What follows is usually my eyebrow furrowing and me pinching my chin. Thinking. After taking a break, I inhale and give three answers: the people, opportunity for growth, and money.
Brockport wasn’t my first choice. That spot was taken by the one and only Brown University. I had dreams of studying English + Psych, writing for their newspaper, living in one of their culturally themed (not appropriated) residence halls and so much more. Unfortunately (well, fortunately) I had been given an email saying I had been declined admission. Shortly after, I learned that one of my grandmothers had died. Both of those bombs had been dropped while I was in the hair salon. Let’s just say, I wasn’t a happy camper.
I went to school the following day, shared my news, and was informed by my college advisor/English teacher, Ms. Pushkin, that one of the schools I applied to had an opportunity called the Ellsworth Express bus trip. This trip allowed prospective students from NYC and Long Island to visit the campus and stay overnight. That school was Brockport, a place I would come to call a home away from home. The people at Brockport were very nice to me. I remember an admissions representative running around the Square like a chicken with his head cut off. Any outsider would have considered the man strange, but he was actually searching for a lid to cover some hot cocoa I was carrying. I was attracted by the abundance of squirrels, the huggable mascot, and simple gestures like people holding doors for me. Who did such things?
Brockport impressed me by encouraging student engagement. I mean, if people are paying to attend, there should be spaces developed for students to make decisions and act with agency. Where’s the democracy without the people weighing and being involved? During my first visit, I learned that anyone could start up a club if they wanted (there was a Nerf and Harry Potter fan club), that the radio/television stations and newspaper were all student run, and that the school’s Leadership Development Program was a wonderful opportunity meant to help student leaders grow—something I believe everyone can continue to do.
And the money! I don’t know about anyone else, but Brockport offered me a decent financial aid packet. Much better than other public and private institutions that accepted me.
As a campus ambassador (fancy phrase for tour guide), I get asked this question here and there. But it wasn’t that leadership position that got me thinking about this question, but my role as a Senior Resident Assistant. This past Halloween (about an hour prior to my writing this), I had a conversation with a resident from a neighboring building. What started off with a question asking me how it was that I managed to make it to my junior year of college, I was honest and said it was my friends who played a large role in my staying in school. Our conversation then evolved into a conversation about race, mental health awareness, leadership, community, and many other topics. In regards to leadership and community, I told this particular resident (someone I would consider a mentee and friend) that as a student leader, it’s my duty to serve others. I told him that a leader’s priority should be practicing collective leadership (working with others) and creating inclusive spaces where people can openly share their thoughts and ideas.
Above all, I said that my role as a leader—no matter the hat I wear—is to empower those I serve with agency so that they are inspired to be leaders themselves. It’s all about service. So yeah, I chose Brockport for the friendly atmosphere, the opportunities to grow, and my financial aid package. However, it was people believing in me, empowering me with agency to act and question—my friends and mentors—who helped me stay. I like to consider Brockport a small school with large opportunities. Opportunities, like adventure, are out there. You just have to be bold and go for what you want. If you don’t know what it is that you’re looking for, take a pause and think about the life you wish to live. The answer is there, within you. Somewhere.
There’s no rush to have all the answers of the story that is your life. Every great adventure begins with a single step.