In the past few weeks I’ve been asked to write a lot of “New Terrier Letters.” These are the little notes that are included in letters to incoming freshmen, written by current students. On the list of directions, there is one instruction that says, “Do include a piece of information or advice that helped you when you first started at BU.” It’s difficult for me not to simply write,
GO TO THE HOWARD THURMAN CENTER
on all those letters. My college experience would be nothing without the Howard Thurman Center and the family that came with it.
I say this because without the Howard Thurman Center, I probably would not be at Boston University anymore. I had a rough first year at BU – and that is by no means an uncommon experience. BU is big, intimidating, and takes a while to get used to. The learning curve of transitioning from high school to college is high no matter how badass you think you are. At the end of the first semester I cried in my mother’s lap, wanting to transfer. The one thing that got me back for a second semester: Coffee and Conversation at the HTC. I realized that if I decided to leave BU someone in that group would know I was missing. That got me to come back. Whether I was friends with everyone in that group or not, we all knew each other, and there was a bond. I decided to give BU another chance, and I decided to make a real effort to have a different experience. That decision changed everything.
Howard Thurman believed that there are two complementary facets to life: the Inward Journey, in which you learn who you are, and the Search for Common Ground, in which you make meaningful connections with others. That is how I see my involvement with the Center.
Sophomore year I became a Student Ambassador for the HTC, and a whole new world opened up to me. Suddenly I found my mentors, my brothers, my sisters, and Ms. Kennedy. The turn-around from my freshman year of sitting sullen in my room, to my sophomore year of motivation, barely makes sense as I look back on it. I was driven by the people around me – people who motivated me by virtue of their own motivation. I wanted to be like them, to impress them, to hold my own. The Ambassador program was my Inward Journey. I have often been lost and confused, but for the past 3 years I have continuously found myself in the Ambassadors – immersed in Thurman’s philosophy. My mentors have helped shaped me, and I have worked on shaping myself by trying to mentor others in the past year.
The following summer, I joined Culture Shock. In many ways Culture Shock has been my community at Boston University. In Culture Shock we weren’t brothers and sisters, or even mentors and mentees – we were equals, driven by the same need to express ourselves. To me, Culture Shock has always been about the Search for Common Ground, and making meaningful connections. While I have certainly grown as a writer, I have, more importantly, made profound connections with people I would not otherwise have met. It is largely because of CS that I have become close with Jeff, Ceci, and Emily - three friends whom I have truly come to love, and upon whose friendship I depend.
There are a few things to say.
To BU students: find your community. It doesn’t have to be the Howard Thurman Center; the important thing is that you find your equals. Find the people with whom you can stay up till 3am, whose personalities move you, who fascinate you, and who find you equally fascinating. For me, it was Culture Shock. But BU is big, and I promise that there is a place for you.
To the HTC Ambassadors: never stop believing that we are a family, and never stop using your family to continue your Inward Journey. The beauty of family is that we have each other no matter what – and that is how I feel about all of you. I’m leaving Boston, but I will always have for you the unconditional love that was given to me when I became an Ambassador.
To the Culture Shock writers: keep pushing each other to be better. You are incredible artists, and I know that many of you will one day make a living doing what you now do as a hobby. Push each other to be better people. CS is unique in its combination of truly powerful persons – use your mutual admiration to grow. I will continue to read your work, and continue to be flabbergasted at the talent with which I have been surrounded.
This past weekend I went to Detroit to interview for teaching positions. I found in that city a quality that I have long loved about Boston: pride. Pride in your city and the people who live and work there. I am excited to go to Detroit. But I am also proud of having been a son of Boston for the past four years, if only an adoptive son. My grandfather always said that your children are only ever on loan – at some point they grow up, move out, and start their own life. Perhaps it is the same with cities. It is time for me to move out. But moving out doesn’t mean you stop loving the people who raised you, or the place you came from.
Thank you Boston, thank you BU, and thank you Howard Thurman Center family.