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River Hawk pride is neither judgmental nor exclusive

UMass Lowell students will celebrate the university’s 125th year in operation with a series of special 2019 Homecoming events across campus. (Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell)

Serena Arora
Connector Staff

When I was a freshman in high school, I was battling depression and failing school. I was not able to go to school in the morning. The minute my alarm would go off, I would flutter my eyes open, think about walking into those hollow halls and close my eyes. The thing about depression is that not only is your motivation gone, but you feel physically tired. Your body aches and getting up feels like lifting a million bricks. Another scary part of depression is knowing that when you do wake up, the depression cloud above you flickers and you have to spend the rest of your day in gloomy darkness.  

I would go to school half the time and do minimal assignments. My teachers would wonder why I was not trying because they knew I was smart and that I was capable of doing really well. I would shrug and say, “I’m tired.” 

They would roll their eyes in disgust and watch me fail.  

They do not understand. They just think I am a slacker. They do not know what I go through on a daily basis. Nobody knows my pain.  

One day I had to attend a meeting with all my teachers and the principal and vice-principal of the school. They began to tell me that my grades were near failing and if I did not get my act together, I would be in danger of staying back. I sat there with a dead look on my face.  

“I will try harder, I promise, I said. 

I did not grasp the reality of the situation until I was told that I would possibly stay back. I realized that if I did not start doing well in school, I would not be able to graduate with my peers. I would always be known as the girl who stayed back freshman year and would feel extremely ashamed. I decided it was time to ask for help.

I told my parents I was suffering from depression, and they decided to start me on medication. Slowly but surely, I began to do better in all my classes and my teachers and principals checked in on me from time to time to see if I was doing okay. I passed freshman year, and somehow clawed my way into advanced placement (AP) classes in my junior and senior year. I wanted so desperately to get out of the small-minded painful town that I grew up in, and college was my only way out.  

I started applying to schools in New York City. Fordham University and New York University were my top schools, although I knew because of my freshman year mishap I would never get in. However, that did not stop me from applying to all my reach schools in Massachusetts and New York and cross my fingers for the results. Of course, I did not get into any of my reach schools, but I did get into Suffolk University, Emmanuel College and some more. I did not feel a connection to any of these schools and felt extremely lost and confused. I wanted to take a year off to travel as I did not know where to go or where I wanted to live. However, I did not have any money to travel, so that was out of the question. 

One day my family friend told me about a school in Lowell. 

“You should apply to UMass Lowell, there is a beautiful campus, the school is full of diversity, and the education is very good! You will love it, she said. 

Lowell? Is she kidding? Why would I want to live there? There is nothing to do there, and I will not even be in a city. I will be stuck in another small town… No thank you. 

“Yeah, yeah maybe.” 

A few days later I was looking at the campus online. It was mediocrely pretty. There were some nice views. And I figured, why not try it out?

I applied quickly, since it was the day before the deadline and there were no supplements required. Soon enough, I got the acceptance email. I visited the school and toured the campus. Lowell might not be the best city, but UMass Lowell was definitely a beautiful part of it. I loved the Merrimack River, the bridges, the people and the English department at the university, specifically, the O’Leary Library. I began to picture myself living on South Campus and studying in the library on the couches. During my visit, I grabbed a book, lay on the couch and began reading.

I instantly fell in love with the academic feel of college itself. I decided that after everything I went through, I was lucky enough to even get into this school.

The school was a reach for me. Therefore, I should not waste my opportunity and just say yes. I then bought all my school gear, took a photoshoot and clicked Yes on the online portal.  

Flash-forward to spring semester, I sat in a philosophy class, looking up schools to transfer too. I had a rough semester. I did not like the department for my major, I had trouble with friends and I felt isolated from the city and wanted to be able to have a second chance at a life in New York. I still was in denial that I ended up at a state school when my brother was most likely going to Northeastern University or Tufts University (He ended up going to Tufts). I did not know the hidden gems of this school, not yet anyway. 

In my philosophy class, there was a man who had come back to school, had a son and was trying to complete his degree for his son. As the class talked about existential dread, and how Tolstoy believed you utilized drops of honey to get through life, the man said his drop of honey was his child. I was touched. To come to a school where people from all walks of life can join in and get an education was eye-opening. That is something you cannot get in a private school. Additionally, I learned there were students who worked two or three jobs just to be able to sit in class. I was humbled; I was not acknowledging how lucky I was to be getting an education in a school full of such hard workers.  

My decision to stay at the school was guided by the realization that I belong here.

UMass Lowell has an abundance of students who did amazing in school but could not afford private school. There is also a multitudinous number of students like me, who struggled, but somehow made it here. We all stick together and accept each other no matter what. Currently, I am in a creative writing class where I am able to face all my demons through writing without being judged. These students tell me it is a safe space,” and I believe it. Now being here for my second year, I have realized I would not have fit into a private school.

I believe the students here are down to earth, and I would not have been able to survive if it was any other way.  

So, what does it mean to be a River Hawk?

Being a River Hawk means flying above the odds and succeeding.

It means working multiple jobs but still managing to hand in that essay on time.

River Hawks would never judge anyone because they know what it feels like to not be accepted.

The meaning of being a River Hawk is waking up in the morning and knowing you worked extremely hard to get to this school, and then smiling and not wasting this opportunity for anything. 

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