Throughout my first semester at Georgetown, I was presented with the biggest challenges I have ever had to overcome in my life. I first explored this school during Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program Weekend in April 2012, and had been genuinely excited to begin a new chapter of my life. Little did I know that the fall would be a rude awakening. I had imagined a different kind of Georgetown, one that was diverse, friendly and focused on the liberal arts. At least that was the impression I received when I toured campus and participated in a pre-orientation program aptly called Young Leaders in Education About Diversity.
Come fall semester, the illusion was shattered beyond repair. Georgetown was not really diverse at all — perhaps that is why we need programs like YLEAD, — people seemed snobby — why doesn’t anyone smile here? — and the ethos was distinctly pre-professional, a conveyor belt bent on producing mediocre consultants.
Added to this sense of disappointment was the fact that I was still undergoing treatment for leukemia and was diagnosed with a side effect of chemotherapy, impairing my ability to walk. I had plans to join a South Asian dance troupe, but was relegated to a power scooter, bringing to the fore another aspect of the campus’s inadequacy: It was not really accessible at all. Suffice to say that I was having a miserable time, and had to withdraw from three courses due to a severe depressive episode. However, throughout the ordeal, my deans and the Academic Resource Center provided me with immense support.
Things soon changed for the better. I focused on the two classes I was taking that semester — “British Poetry” with Duncan Wu and “Problem of God” with Ori Soltes — remarkable professors who convinced me the liberal arts were alive and well on campus, even if they were often occluded by other disciplines such as politics and international relations. I found friends through the literary magazine The Anthem, the Muslim Students Association, and the then-Interfaith Council. That Christmas, I got my knees operated on right here at Georgetown, and I was able to walk in the spring and able to take a full course load — I even danced at the Kennedy Center as part of Rangila.
I was later accepted to the Carroll Fellows Initiative, a rigorous program dedicated to academic excellence and one of the most formative experiences during my time here. The program drove me to embrace the complexity of my circumstances and to combine my varied academic interests: medicine and literature. I declared a major in English and continued my pre-med coursework. My immersion in both science and the humanities has made me a better writer and thinker. I got to write an English honors thesis under the guidance of one of the most well-known poets writing today, Carolyn Forché, whose mentorship has been invaluable in my development as a poet and future physician and writer.
I want future graduates from Georgetown to find hope in my story. Even when the odds seem insurmountable, do not underestimate the power of the will and the compassion of friends and teachers. Georgetown might first strike you down then blow you to smithereens, but it will rebuild you into a smarter, more independent and more fearless version of your former self. Even when everybody around you may seem to tread paths already trod, Georgetown will give you the tools to fashion a unique niche for yourself.
We tend to sentimentalize our undergraduate years come graduation day, but we must not shy away from complexity, wearing both the good and the bad proudly like our gowns and chords and hats. To overcome the bad is part and parcel of growing up, and I have grown more during my four years at Georgetown than in my initial 19. Georgetown has raised me, pushed me to my limits and tested my resolve. But this campus has healed me as well.
Bassam Sidiki is a senior in the College.
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