Aperçu for U

By Michael Agnello

(Michael Agnello)

I transferred to the University of Massachusetts sophomore year. I never toured the school and wanted absolutely nothing to do with it when I was in high school. I was one of those students who thought, “too many of my high school classmates are going there,” or “it’s too close.” But here I am, three years later, begging my younger sister to go to UMass so I can vicariously go through the experience again.

I attended the University of Delaware, a six-hour drive south from my small suburban town in Eastern Massachusetts. I wanted to get away. I wanted to challenge myself by adjusting to an unfamiliar area.

But during the spring semester of my freshman year, my father died. We were close. I was like his little clone—quiet though observant, competitive though respectful. So when he died, I felt lost. And the geographic distance intensified my despair. I felt isolated from my family and friends, isolated from familiarity. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to drop out of school. I wanted to hop on the freight train that chugged parallel to my dorm and abandon responsibility. Though in my rashness, rationality pointed me toward UMass. I swallowed my cognitive dissonance and applied before I even told my mom.

I was still skeptical when I arrived on campus, and I suppose I remained so until I made a conscious decision to do something productive, seek something that felt like purpose. So I wrote an article for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian in October about the importance of voting, a topic I care about deeply. The piece was well received and gave me a sense of pride and confidence that had been missing for months. Just seeing my name in the print edition of the paper made me feel relevant—made me realize that I was part of this campus’ community, a feeling that continuously grew.

I kept writing, became a columnist, and then an assistant editor, immersing myself further into the feeling of relevancy. Finding stability along the way.

And so, as weird as it sounds, writing that first column is one of the most important actions in my life so far.

The Collegian seemed to accept me at a time when I needed it most. I was given a platform to express my opinions and speak to a general audience, to have weekly charged discussions with like-minded peers, to get temporarily distracted from grief. My involvement made me eager to explore new opportunities and eager to embrace my new university.

By the end of my sophomore year, I felt connected to campus. My isolation assuaged. I couldn’t stop praising my professors, who were engaging and taught material that made me think critically about my surroundings and myself. The location of the campus afforded me the ability to hike, ski, fish and see some of my favorite bands. I made new friends, solidified old ones. And the food was pretty damn good, too.

But what I keep going back to is that without the initial confidence boost from being published, who knows if I would have ended up where I am—poised to graduate with a job and lifelong connections with friends and professors.

So when I graduate in a few weeks, it’ll be difficult to say goodbye to a place where I feel so welcomed. I know I’ve made the most of my time at UMass, I know I’ve accomplished what I set out to do—having matured academically and socially—but to know I’m leaving the place that, in a way, helped repair my fragility, will be hard to fathom. My naiveté, my timidity and anxiety, cultivated to become leadership, reverence and confidence.

I’m sure my father would be proud of me. Although I was unable to share my UMass experience with him—I could’ve used some advice for column ideas, or a companion to a basketball game—I know that, with reflection, this university and the resources and opportunities available to students, like the Collegian, have prepared me to follow in his footsteps, living honestly and with purpose.

Michael Agnello was an assistant opinion and editorial editor and can be reached at [email protected].