"But you don't look Hispanic."
By now, I'm quite used to hearing those words. The name "Lesley Ryder" doesn't scream "Puerto Rican/Mexican," but I assure you, I am very Hispanic.
I grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of divorced parents with my awesome older sister, Stephanie.
I recently graduated from Hamilton College, a small liberal arts institution atop a beautiful hill in Clinton, NY. Compared to my high school, Hamilton felt like another planet. I went to Midwood, a New Deal-era building bursting at the seams with about 3,800 students. Hamilton's 1,300 acres for 1,800 students was a welcomed change.
My SAT scores were not great (which, these days, means less than a 2200 combined) so my admission was contingent on my completion of the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education opportunity program (HEOP). HEOP is a rigorous five-week academic boot camp designed to prepare students for the increased workload experienced freshman year. By the end of the program, I had worked with some of the best professors Hamilton had to offer. I felt ready.
Navigating a new social landscape (like college) can be tricky, but thanks to HEOP, I had 35 good friends to hang with. Fortunately, at Hamilton, it's quite easy to make new friends by diving into the campus activities. I really like meeting people, so I did just about everything. At my extracurricular peak, I was president of my sorority, vice president of the Student Assembly, an orientation coordinator, a tour guide, a starting forward on the rugby team, a goalie on the ice hockey team, all while working three campus jobs and taking a full course load, including a thesis project.
Occasionally I'd find time to pencil in a bathroom break.
The fact that I'm a Latina from a middle class family never really mattered. While Hamilton is often stereotyped as a haven for brosephs, prepsters, and Vineyard Vines enthusiasts, the truth is each incoming class is more diverse than the last, and Hamilton is committed to admitting students regardless of financial aid need. The Class of 2015 is something in the neighborhood of 25 percent multi-ethnic students.
That being said, no college's student body is in perfect "Kumbaya" harmony. Any tour guide on any campus that tells you any different is lying (I'm proud to say Hamilton's guides are well-trained and will give you real answers). Hamilton did have several bias incidences reported in my tenure, but each one was treated seriously, with support from the student body (case in point). For the most part, I felt safe and respected in my community.
Academically speaking, I originally planned on going pre-med. I loved the mystery of medicine and I couldn't wait to be a doctor like the ones I saw on ER every week. Two semesters of organic chemistry later, I decided that medicine is best left to those that don't mix up alkyl halide reactions. I still loved science, but I didn't want to make a career out of it.
I'm going to enjoy watching my biology degree gather dust.
As for my future, eventually I plan on pursuing higher education administration, concentrating in student affairs. As someone who experienced just about everything her college could offer, I would like to encourage other students to do the same. For now, I'm putting graduate school on hold, and working off some of my $38,000 (and counting) of student loan debt, while pursuing musical theater. After all, you only live once. Why not give yourself a little time to chase a dream?
Follow Lesley Ryder on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@RyderReally