Courtesy Gabrielle Rizzuto Gabrielle Rizzuto, the little witch at the left, wishes she could escape her parents on a broomstick.

I absolutely hated Halloween when I was in elementary school. Halloween should be one of those holidays that little kids love, there’s free candy, chances to play dress-up, school parties, and getting to stay up late.

While sitting peacefully among my first grade classmates on Halloween day, I learned my dad liked Halloween much more than anyone else in the entire world did.

My mom had volunteered to help with my first grade Halloween class party. My shy, little self was unprepared to deal with my entire family arriving to help that day dressed as circus clowns (see picture). Try to find me in the snapshot taken of this brilliant family moment. I’m the tiny witch with an attitude, a serious witch who is very much not smiling, certainly not enjoying this Halloween surprise and already dreading next Halloween. It was humiliating, and I was outraged. How come no one else’s parents were there and in costume, dressed like six year-olds?

But my dad loved Halloween, and this visit became habit for him. Inexplicably, my dad continued to take a day off from work every single Halloween of my grade school career. Without fail, the clown returned to my grade school classroom and I was dressed up as a mad, little witch each time. I didn’t care that my friends loved my dad’s cheerful presence and that he was more popular to go trick-or-treating with than I ever was. Each year, I wanted to hide under my desk in a stubborn sort of humiliation.

Eleven years later, the same stubborn, little witch packed up her belongings in the family car, said goodbye to the only house she’d ever known in a suburb of New York, and drove with her clown family to spend four years at Georgetown, far away from the circus.

In addition to the academic school year, I have managed to spend the past three full summers and several spring breaks away from home, either at Georgetown or doing some Georgetown-related activity. During one of the few vacations in New York, my sister and mom commented upon how busy I must be at school: “you really don’t call that much, and when you do, well, we call them wasted phone calls.” Wasted phone calls? It turned out that most of the calls home that I made must have been made while doing something else: homework, e-mail, hanging out with friends. Apparently, my frequent, “uh huh…yeah…ok…yeah…nothing…nothing…uh-huh…school’s good…uh huh” responses exhibited enough disinterest to be called “wasted phone calls.”

I would like to be able reflect upon the past busy four years and my Georgetown experience, to try to explain what was so important and time-consuming that it warranted so many wasted phone calls. But, I just can’t. Because I can’t get much further than thinking about the circus clowns who have made my experience possible.

I think about the incredible sacrifices my family has made, so that I could be among the first in our family to attend college. About whatever sense of humor I have, and how I stole it from my dad. How all that I’ve learned about what it means to care came from watching my mom care for my grandmother. And when it comes to keeping the friendships that I’ve made at Georgetown, I will have to look to my sister, who is the most amazing person I know when it comes to making others feel important, respected, and needed.

With a lot of patience and a little luck, hopefully in eight years I’ll graduate from a medical program with two more degrees. Deciding that you want to spend eight more years in school is easy when you’ve found a discipline that both inspires and motivates, as I have in medical research.

Deciding between that institution I’ve dreamed of attending since high school and going home to Cornell in New York, however, was agonizing. Painful even.

I haven’t given up my dreams, just put them on hold, for a little while. And don’t get me wrong – I have loved the past few years here, I always will. If given the chance to rewind back to senior year of high school, I would choose Georgetown and every bit of my experience again. Expect maybe one thing: those wasted phone calls. I’m quite certain that I placed my final wasted call yesterday.

I vow not to have another.

I’m through with wasted phone calls because I finally understand why my dad dressed up as a clown every single year of my childhood. It’s the same reason why he would return from work in the afternoons to take me to the neighborhood park even when it rained.

As a result, I’ve chosen New York for the next eight years.

After four full years at Georgetown, 500 miles away from the circus that I tried so hard to avoid, I feel an overwhelming desire to be closer to it. Because there are three wonderfully incredible people there, each one deserving much more than just a wasted phone call.

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