For the more personal essay, I wrote about my childhood growing up in Bethlehem, PA. It’s a small, suburban town of about 80,000 people and it was a fantastic place to grow up. I got a free education in a great public school system and had a loving family who always supported me. But I always wanted out. Ever since I first saw the New York City skyline in 5th grade, I wanted to be there. I wanted to push myself and succeed in a big pond—not just a small pond. I talk a lot about how I think I’m one of the luckiest people I know. I have an amazing home and wonderful husband—I feel like I’m living my dream.
I have to say, my classes are better than I had even hoped for. Before I even know what I need to succeed in my classes, Columbia anticipated it. It’s very well-organized and has every resource you could possibly dream of. I feel like I’m getting great value from the program. The classes are tough, which is what I’d hoped for. The professors are all very respected in their fields and most of them have been published several times. I’ll tell you, nine hours on a Saturday after you’ve worked all week is awfully tough, the first couple weeks especially.
The best advice I’ve ever received is to ask yourself every day what do I want and how do I get it. If you can focus on that, then you can focus your priorities and time toward your ultimate goal.
The greatest challenge I’ve ever faced? This is actually relatively personal but I’m very open about it. My mother has struggled her entire life with alcoholism. Seeing someone you love go through that struggle is incredibly difficult and painful. It’s made me stronger, and it’s made her stronger now too. It was incredibly impactful for my family and for my life. I’m inspired by her strength to have overcome it.
An event that changed my life? I was pretty young when this happened. My grandfather, who’s no longer with us, was one of my role models growing up. He worked at Bethlehem Steel. The steel mill was closing down and everybody was laid off, and he found himself with a family of three daughters and no job. He reinvented himself when I was very young. He went to work at Good Shepherd, which is a non-profit agency that does employment services for people with disabilities. We tend to define ourselves by our occupation—hence, everybody wants to work and everybody wants to contribute. His job was to find people jobs where they would be appreciated and successful despite their disabilities. He told me a story once about working with a woman who was blind and deaf. Many people had given up on her, and he had no idea how to find her a job. What could this woman possibly do?
My grandfather took a little extra time and got to know her. You know those little spinning things that hold toilet paper rolls? There’s a company that makes them and my grandfather found her a job where she would take each piece out of a cardboard box and assemble that thing. He would sit with her and arrange the boxes, take her hand, and guide her through each step of how to construct these things. After a couple of days of practice, she was the fastest toilet paper-holder-builder the company had ever had. That story really showed me how important it is to have a job that holds meaning in your life. That has never left me. That’s my inspiration.
The two things I’m most grateful for would have to be the two most important people in my life: my husband and my brother. I met my husband my freshman year of college. He has supported me in everything I’ve ever done. He makes me smile and laugh every day. He helps me with my studying. He’s amazing.
My brother is my rock. He’s my heart. We grew up together and got through some difficult times together. We’ve always been incredibly close and remain that way today. He was actually just here this weekend and left a little while ago.