I have always loved dinosaurs. The first movie I ever saw was Jurassic Park, my little 5-month-old self giggling in a drive through while the people around me screamed when the T-Rex appeared onscreen and ate people. As I got older, I’d head out to the dirt on my backyard as we were putting a pool in, and start digging for fossils. I knew I wanted to be a velociraptor when I grew up, but then I found out that might not be possible so I decided to be a paleontologist, except when I turned eleven and wanted to be a wizard, when I turned fourteen and wanted to be a lawyer, and when I turned seventeen and wanted to be an infectious disease doctor specializing in counter-bioterrorism (out of these career fields, I’m forced to say that a velociraptor is one of the least ridiculous ones.) The comedy Step Brothers came out, in which the father of one of the brothers gives a speech about growing up and being told to leave his childhood dream of becoming a dinosaur behind in pursuit of a supposedly more practical medical degree, mistakenly thinking he will have time to pursue his real dream of being a dinosaur later on. He concludes by telling his son and stepson that he regrets favoring the safety and security of a medical degree over his true passion of being a dinosaur and tells them, “Don’t lose your dinosaur.”
As my freshman year comes to a close, I feel as if this past year has been spent in rediscovery of my “dinosaur”, my passion, what makes me happy. My senior year in high school was spent in seven AP classes, three of them science or math, because people left and right were telling me that the sciences and quantitative fields were one of the few chances left to get a decent job, that no one was going to hire an international relations major. When I’d finally had enough of problem sets and thermochemistry and announced that I was going to focus on political science and international relations, a surprising number of my classmates acted as if I’d just announced that my life goal was to become a velociraptor. “Good luck getting a job. At least I’ll be employed,” sneered a soon-to-be engineer (perhaps he was a little miffed that I was going to a school with an excellent engineering program?) When I arrived at Hopkins I was terrified that I was going to waste all the opportunities I’d been given by being admitted and that this summer, like so many of my high school classmates graduating in the years before me, I’d be packing my bags to head back to Vegas and fight for a minimum-wage job for the summer after a grueling first year. I was scared that I was going to have to make the choice between being a dinosaur and being a doctor, that I was going to have to pick between happiness and success, that there was going to be absolutely no way that I’d get to do what I wanted to do.
I think a lot of kids have this problem, especially if they go to very good schools. There’s always the double thought of “Will I be able to handle this?” and “Should I want to handle this or should I do something else?” I’m not going to lie, there is a definite opportunity cost (hey economics!) to going to a school like Hopkins. You’re going to spend four years, maybe even five if you do a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program, here and you want to make sure that this is the best possible way you can spend those years of your life. It’s a tough place. Can you handle Hopkins? Should you handle Hopkins?
The answer to both is yes.
My friends and I came to the school much the same way you probably feel right now. Many times my roommate has turned to me and remarked, “How did they let us into a place like this?” She’s had a role in every major theatre production on campus this year and found that her love for neuroscience was worth more to her than staying in what people told her was her comfort zone. Another friend started out the year as a Writing Seminars major and found that she wanted to go back to something she’d started in high school: computer science. She’s doing two separate paid internships this summer. As a freshman. My friends and I didn’t have to worry about having to take general education classes in areas we weren’t interested in, but hit the ground running first semester with classes that truly interested us.
My entire first semester was filled with classes in Arabic, international relations, theories of international relations, world history. Our second semesters have become even more specialized. I’m currently hard at work on a research paper comparing the roles of Islamic Fundamentalism on the civil wars in Sudan and Afghanistan, taking Arabic and Persian concurrently, and discussing Palestinian-Israeli relations in a class about modern Israeli politics.
Certainly, there have been moments where I have been told that taking Arabic will ruin my GPA, that I’m wasting my time doing what I’m doing now instead of focusing on Latin America/China/whatever, that I should “get out more” and party a bit harder, but at the end of it all, I’ve definitely spent a year discovering what I want to do, rather than what I’m told to do.
“Freedom” in high school generally started when you got your license and a car and you had control over what you did on the way to and from school, and possibly on the weekends. Now, in college, every single thing you do in the course of a day is up to you. Sleep in, join a club, wake up at five in the morning, make a tower of doughnuts, prank your suitemates-the choice is utterly yours. This choice makes it easier for you to figure out exactly what your “dinosaur” is and what makes you happy-passing organic chemistry, learning to turn a cartwheel, learning all the legends of your school so you can be a tour guide, or making the mock trial team. Whatever your dream is, you have the ability to make the choices to make it come true at Hopkins. And if you come here willing to work and willing to grow, you’re going to find yourself, as I did, not having to make the choice that the father in Step Brothers did. You don’t have to give up your dinosaur. Maybe your dinosaur will change. Maybe you’ll come in wanting to go to medical school but later find that you’re considering law school. The fantastic thing about this school is that there are no “good” programs and “bad” programs. The overall excellence of education means that even if your dinosaur changes, you can still hold onto it without sacrificing your education.
I’m going to spend my summer in Salalah, Oman with the State Department this summer learning Arabic, one of the few freshman in the country chosen for this Arabic program for which graduate students make up 35% of acceptances. In taking this program I’ve had to turn down positions with district attorneys and the Democratic National Convention. I’ve stayed up until five in the morning watching all of Archer with a friend at a mock trial tournament, and I’ve stayed up until five in the morning writing a paper on the tyranny of oil and its impacts on Iran and Saudi Arabia. I’ve visited every major city on East Coast except Boston, and I’ve traveled around Baltimore with the cast of Learn More, See More, B’More. I’ve debated in a tournament if God should abolish Heaven and Hell, and I’ve been asked to analyze the comparative sociology of religious fundamentalist groups like the Taliban and American far-right Protestant groups. I’ve walked through the third floor of an admissions office filled with acceptance envelopes and rejection letters, and I’ve strolled into the library to pick up books from the top graduate school in international relations in the entire world.
And I’ve held onto my dinosaur through it all.