Learning to Swim Like a Scholar
by Helen Lee
Coming to Smith has been like learning to swim, but instead of wading in gently I decided to dive into the deep end. In my first few weeks I signed on as the Ada tour guide coordinator, made the track team and became a distance runner, volunteered as a big sister to a Korean Smith student, was elected Ada Athletic Representative, and took three classes! With my newfound commitments I occasionally felt as though I were drowning. However, my fellow Adas and my professors came to my rescue and reminded me to come up to breathe; in this way I was able to survive my first semester.
At Smith I feel that my voice and opinion matter. For example, during my comparative literature colloquium classes, my professor likes to inspire dialogue. As she listens to my views she engages me in challenging but encouraging debate. At Smith I am an active participant in my own education and not just a passive student taking notes. Smith has also changed my outlook on life. As a younger woman, I obsessed about being the fastest, strongest and smartest in all areas of my life. As an Ada Comstock Scholar and a Smith athlete, I have come to redefine the notion of success. Instead of focusing only on my grades, I have concentrated on learning; and instead of demanding that I cross the finish line first, I have striven to improve on my personal best; thus I have learned that winning takes many forms. Never before have I felt so empowered.
In 1993 I left behind a glamorous and successful career in the music industry in London to hitchhike across America. Although I loved my job, I knew after eight years that something was missing in my life. Like the nonswimmer who watches others enjoying the ocean while she stands alone, I recognized that I was missing out; not having a degree weighed heavily on my mind. After a year of traveling, I ended up on Martha's Vineyard, where I spent four years cleaning houses so I could save enough money to return to my studies. To keep myself sane, I would picture myself sitting in a classroom with other students instead of scrubbing floors. Fortunately, last year I realized my dream when I entered Smith.
Being at Smith, like learning to swim, has been a profoundly rewarding and thrilling experience. Like the new swimmer whose confidence grows with each stroke, I too have been able to take risks and grow from the multitude of opportunities that await me. I have stretched myself physically and mentally to achieve goals that I thought were beyond my reach. I have formed close friendships with other women, and I have connected to the wonderful Smith community. At Smith I am extremely grateful and delighted to have found such a welcoming home and supportive family. My professors, the Ada Comstock office, my coaches, fellow athletes and most of all my terrific Ada peers have encouraged me in all my struggles and endeavors. During the moments when I felt most overwhelmed they have been there to listen, comfort and cheer me on.
Next semester I hope to continue giving back to my community. I will implement an intramural program specifically designed for a healthier student body. I will also continue the Ada Hoo Ha! Club and Ada lunch club that a group of first-year Adas and myself founded to bring together the Ada community. Like the proud new swimmer and the excited new student I am comfortable and ecstatic in my new waters. At Smith I have not only learned to swim, but I have been inspired to dive for pearls.
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