I did not want to attend Andrews University. I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, a largely urbanized area with a saturated magnet high school market. Essentially, this meant that I attended class alongside everyone on the socioeconomic spectrum, from yuppies and preppies to people under the county poverty line. But while I witnessed a class structure that was dynamic and fluid, I also observed a trend that transcended these social ladder differences. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 6 private high schools where Ivy League legacy comprises about a good tenth of the student body. While this is typical for a Catholic academy (the likes of which dominate Bergen), the public school system also boasts an impressive list of schools its alumni have attended. Ask any Bergen resident and they can explain this consistency: private or public doesn’t matter; students are fiercely competitive either way.
Naturally, this elitist attitude rubbed off on me quite a bit. I felt entitled in high school, convinced I deserved a school with jaw-dropping credentials. I wanted opportunities upon opportunities, and could not imagine attending a college without the sort of radically life-changing experience that I could spew on a resume. Duke, Stanford, Columbia—you name it. It didn’t matter as long as it was recognized. I imagined I would walk alongside the educational elite in Cornell, eventually becoming part of the Big Red family. I dreamed I would be able to proudly label myself a Trojan, kicking back in lecture halls or in the California weather. Breakthrough research? Life changing travels? Prestigious friends and connections? Brilliantly insane professors? I wanted it all. And perhaps my strongest desire was to be a prodigy student, someone who would stand out in every way from my peers. I wanted materialistic success and I was proud of it.
I didn’t want Andrews. Its underwhelming. I get what it’s like to have to suddenly adjust your college expectations because you entered Berrien Springs. I get what it’s like to be disappointed when you find yourself marching down the Flag Mall during Commencement, wondering about all the “what-ifs” and “could have beens”. I too saw Andrews’ academics, social life, and extracurricular opportunities as inauthentic imitations of the top universities, with no worthy credentials. Admittedly, up until this year I still considered transferring into a larger university, so I could reopen the door to more opportunities.
But then a piece of news caught my eye. Earlier this month, US News and World Report ( a well-known ranking site) ranked Andrews as the most diverse among national universities (US News and World Report 2017). When I read this, I was conflicted. The Adventist in me affirmed that yes, it’s an impressive statistic. But my elitist side felt that it was an inauthentic way of just getting our name on a list. The fact that we are number one in something feels good for a time, but does it really appeal to someone who quantifies schools by their academic caliber as I have? I could not help but believe that we were just proud of being number one in some category, one that has nothing to do with academia. I wondered if we really could be proud of our diversity, if it does not even compensate for the areas we lack in to someone dreaming big. Furthermore, I can say from my own exposure that not every student is looking for a diverse school. Most decide where they will go less on student demographic and more on the social life, recreational activities, and extracurricular activities provided. If students realize that Andrews offers nothing more to them than just diversity, they will not have any incentive to attend Andrews, as its “number one” statistic now means nothing.
So for a time, I was left with two impressions of Andrews: one, that it is not in the upper-tier category for academics; and two, that it tries to compensate for this by claiming its diversity. But I soon came to realize that these two issues have actually defined my success at Andrews. Its diversity statistic, as I have come to see, demonstrates its advantages if looked through two new perspectives. First, we must consider that my initial way of judging colleges (based on academics) was completely wrong: the name, no matter how elite or subpar, does not make the experience. That is not how you measure success. Rather, prosperity comes when the student can create opportunities around them regardless of where they are. In other words, a college experience is what the individual makes of it. If you have individualized work ethic, you will be successful in any circumstance because you can make the experience work for yourself. I stress my epiphany that college is a campaign dependent not upon the circumstances, but upon the individual embarking on his or her path. I can see now how I foolishly desired to be a prodigy student the same way a peasant desires to be a knight, believing the best is whoever wears the shiniest armor. Yet if my success depends solely on what is provided to me, even the most prestigious exterior I wear cannot make me internally elite.
Second, and most assuredly, it is this diversity at Andrews that has allowed me to thoroughly maximize my journey here. As I said, your college experience is entirely up to you. But that does not imply that you must go through it alone. The diversity at Andrews has allowed me to meet some of the most uplifting people whose absence would make creating my own experience indefinitely more difficult. Without the people I have met, without their invaluable input on my life, I would not be enjoying myself as I am now. I genuinely take pleasure in my studies and activities. And it is because I am alongside amazing people that this self-constructed journey is much more manageable. Without this support group, which most definitely comes from the diverse reach this school has, I do not know how I could have progressed in my studies or activities. I recognize that all of my successful endeavors here I owe at least in part to someone else.
I am convinced that our diversity is our greatest strength. And I urge those who do not take Andrews seriously to reconsider their position and look around them. Life is about interdependency, not about being independent. So much more can be accomplished through companionship and community, through friends and colleagues whose presence defines who you are just as much as you define yourself. While I once believed that only elitist educational products could open more doors, I now have many roads of opportunities due, in part, to Andrews’s diversity. No, this does not counteract the perhaps less-elite academics represented by the online college rankings for Andrews. But your surrounding circumstances do not have to affect your chances of flourishing. Rather, they can form an individual able to transcend the conditions, which I believe is a much better metric of success.