May 10, 2004

An education of myself      

Matthew Harrison, ’04C, holds a bachelor’s in psychology. He has worked as editorial assistant for Emory Report since fall of 2000.

“Son, with grades like that, I know you’re going to be a doctor!” I remember hearing Rev. Callaway, my childhood preacher, say this after he heard I had made the Honor Roll in the first grade.

The prevalence of these statements amplified throughout the continuum of my education. It seemed that with every new award, accolade or “A” on my report card, my “destiny” to become a medical doctor was enhanced. So, like many other children, I was “convinced,” perhaps by my family, teachers, fellow church members and others, that I was meant to practice medicine.

Thus, in the fall of 1999 I completed my application to Emory; attending this institution, I felt, would be a step in my natural progression toward medical school. I remember receiving the thick acceptance envelope that following spring and feeling absolute elation—going to Emory had been my dream since the seventh grade.
I had planned it all out: I would attend Emory for undergrad, majoring in chemistry on the pre-med track. Next, I would decide between Harvard, Vanderbilt, Duke or Emory for medical school (I would be accepted, of course, at all four). Little did I know, four years later, I would be graduating from Emory, not pre-med, not majoring in chemistry—and not the least bit upset about it.

Having attended a public high school, I never was really challenged before coming to Emory. Therefore, my good grades in science classes completely overshadowed my complete distaste for them. This aversion hit me hard during my first semester here, when I earned my first C-plus (in chemistry, no less). Having only made two Bs prior to college, I was heartbroken but still determined, I thought, to pursue a medical degree.

Something similar happened the following semester in my second chemistry course, and then again the following year in biology. It was then I realized that perhaps I wasn’t doing well in these classes because I had absolutely no interest in them. That might prove problematic in medical school.

Finally I came to the difficult realization that medicine wasn’t for me. I learned that I needed to take my time in college to evaluate myself and my own interests, so that I could pursue the career I was meant to, not one that was expected of me.
I switched my major to psychology and soon discovered my “calling.” Because of this epiphany, and many other experiences, my time at Emory has been most rewarding. It’s been unforgettable.

In high school, I was active. I was involved. So, when I got to college, I wanted to make sure my experience included more than just lectures, homework, exams and papers. Also, I was brought up to believe that education is priceless (despite Emory’s hefty price tag), and as such it is my duty, as a recipient of learning, to give back to the community from which I receive.

From the beginning I tried to immerse myself in extracurricular activities that I felt were meaningful in some way to the Emory community. This actually began prior to my coming here; I was asked to be a member of the Hughes Scholars Science Initiatives, which ironically is a program that encourages minority students to pursue careers in the sciences.

The program was, and has continued to be, beneficial for me in so many ways. Though this perhaps was not the program’s intention, exposure to mentors who were pre-med, attending conferences at medical schools and hearing lectures about the medical profession helped me to realize that medicine was not my destiny.

However, for the past three years I served as a mentor for this program and have encouraged many of my fellow classmates to follow a career in the sciences. At the same time, I stressed to them the importance of finding a career in which they would be happy and content.

I also served as editorial assistant for Emory Report during my entire tenure here. Working for ER has been interesting and surprisingly rewarding. I say “surprisingly” because I’ve never had and still don’t have any intentions of doing anything in my career related to journalism, but my time working for the paper has been gratifying and worthwhile. I’ve probably been one of the University’s most informed undergraduates in terms of faculty/staff issues over the past four years, and I think this additional knowledge has made me more appreciative of their work—and more thankful for their contributions and dedication to Emory.

Because I have so much pride for this University, and especially the academic standards to which it holds, I felt compelled and somewhat obligated to do something to ensure that Emory’s academic integrity was not jeopardized. Thus, I joined the Honor Council during my junior year.

Being a member of this group has been somewhat bittersweet. On one hand, it’s difficult facing peers who have been accused of academic violations, but at the same time it’s rewarding to know you’re playing a vital role in upholding the standards of the institution whose name will adorn your diploma.

There are many other activities in which I participated and several other experiences that have helped to shape my time here at Emory into something I’ll look back on with happiness.

When the “end of an era” occurs, people often ask if you have any regrets. And I can honestly say that I don’t. No doubt many graduates feel this way, but never have I felt more changed because of different experiences. While some were heartbreaking, painful and distressing, I wouldn’t change any of them because they have all made me a stronger and more committed individual. These experiences have shaped my time here; more importantly, they have shaped me as a human being.

And you know what? I guess my old preacher’s proclamation was accurate after all. I start work on my Ph.D. this fall.