Name: Miranda Baxendale
Year: Class of 2013
Hometown: Culver City, CA
Intended Programs of Study: History and possibly Political Science or International Studie
At the beginning of eleventh grade, my mother thought it would be a good idea to start going to the college presentations being held locally. I’d gotten an invitation in the mail to come see Johns Hopkins University on a Saturday afternoon. A college presentation was perhaps the last thing I wanted to do on with my weekend, especially while adjusting to the lack of summer/free time. The presentation, however, was being held near a bookstore where I had a gift card, at a hotel where I normally never would have an excuse entering. I agreed.
So, second weekend of school, we show up to the luxurious hotel where the presentation was being held. At this point, I would have to say that the only thing I knew about Hopkins was that it had something to do with medicine; I’m not even sure if I remembered the “s.” But, once the presentation began, the admissions officer barely mentioned words like “pre-med” or “medical.” Instead, she stressed features like the gorgeous campus, the lack of a core curriculum, and the great options for political science and international studies. From that point onwards, I usually found it easy to forget that Hopkins was seen as medical. However, the rest of the world didn’t forget.
The next day back at school, we were discussing our weekends. “Ew, junior year homework!” “Beach!” “Why don’t any of us drive?” “I saw a Johns Hopkins presentation.” The reaction was mixed. “John Hopkins?” “I didn’t know you wanted to be a doctor! ” “Will you get to cut up human bodies?” “Well, actually,” I cut in, “they have a lot of other programs…” But no one was listening. Just as there are a few things we don’t question – don’t talk back to your mother, eat your vegetables – Hopkins was for pre-meds, and that was something I would have to live with.
Fast forward to spring of senior year. Suddenly, everyone was talking about acceptances, and more importantly, where we were going. It’s always the same drill: one person mentions a place, and the other frantically racks their brains, trying to remember something about that school, and secretly thinking that their school is better. And for me, the inevitable doctor remarks started coming. “Wow, that’s great that you’re going to be a doctor!” “Pre-med, eh? Have fun with that!”
Not all of the comments were that mundane. At Thanksgiving, I was told, “Oh, you’re applying to John Hopkins? You can find a nice rich doctor to marry!” As tempting as it was to answer with some lovely smart aleck comment, I managed to keep (most) of the cynicism under control. “Yes, it’s a great opportunity. I’ll also get an education, too!” In the spring, an elderly neighbor informed me, “They have a great medical school. My granddaughter is engaged to a rich medical student at Harvard!” Read: “You will be near a first-class medical school! Find someone rich while you can!” Again, I tried to reply tactfully, my inner Betty Friedan begging to rebel. Thankfully, a few people recognized that gold-digging wasn’t the real situation. As my friend Katie pointed out, “Miranda’s going to Johns Hopkins so some rich doctor can find a nice Miranda to marry!”
Even after I’d made my decision, I spent quite a bit of time debating with myself about my choice. Would that create automatic assumptions about my career? Perhaps. Would I spend the rest of my life explaining that I wasn’t a doctor, and yes, I realized that the only thing Hopkins is good for is medicine? Yes. Will people try to match me up with rich doctors? Perhaps. But more importantly, would it give me academic opportunities in areas I loved, nonetheless? Would I still have a great college experience on a campus I loved, in a great location? Wholeheartedly yes. And although the questions keep coming, the seeds of doubt are dying out quickly, and are being replaced by seeds of excitement for the future.
But as repetitive as it may be to constantly explain my college plans to well-meaning adults, there is one special group of people that doesn’t maintain the same preconceptions. I volunteer in a second grade classroom, and towards the end of spring, they started to ask me various questions about going to college. Now, second graders have no concept about middle school, let alone going across the country just to go to school. Even if they did have a vague idea about going to college, it usually involved our local community colleges or USC and UCLA, where knowledge usually revolved around football. The questions began. “Where are you going?” “I’m going to a school called Johns Hopkins. It’s in Baltimore, in Maryland, on the other side of the country.” “So you’re moving? Are your parents going with you?” “No,” I explained. I was going to live by myself, with a friend called a roommate, in something called a dorm. Twenty confused faces stared back at me. At eight years old, none of these kids have ever gone to sleep-away camp, or anything close to resembling the college living situation. I searched for the best way to describe it. The best analogy I could come up with was a giant sleepover that went on for months. Their response? “Have fun on your sleepover!”
The next week, when I came in as usual, they all looked at me, baffled and confused. “I thought you said you were going to college!” In their second grade minds, when someone goes somewhere, it means immediately. “I’m going to college” translates into “Miranda is leaving right after school today and will be in Baltimore on her sleepover.” Regardless of how many times I explained that I would go to college when they started third grade, it never stuck. From then on, whenever I would leave, I would be showered by cries of “Have fun on your sleepover!”
At the end of the year, they all wrote me letters with their advice and thoughts. Here’s a sampling (spelling and grammar theirs):
“I hope you have fun at college.”
“I hope you graduate.”
“I hope you make good dreams and choices.”
“Do your best and you will have success.”
“You can be a doctor, lawer, and veterinarian.”
“I hope you do great in John Hopskins University one of the best college ever!”
Somehow, when it’s coming from a second grader, I really don’t mind the many versions of “Johns Hopkins” and the assumptions about my future in medicine.
Congratulations to the Class of 2013 and have fun on your sleepover!