When I turned 11, I eagerly anticipated my Hogwarts letter. I had been a Harry Potter fan for 3 years, and I continued to believe in magic. Alas, my 11th birthday passed and my mail was still empty. I waited for the whole year, yet I never got any indication that I was a wizard. I dreamt about Hogwarts constantly, picturing the elegant 4 poster beds, the cozy common rooms, and the noisy corridors full of students laughing, scheming, and studying. Compared to my quiet, monotonous house, Hogwarts was perfect.
At the age of 15, I got my letter of acceptance from IMSA. It is no surprise that when I got into IMSA, I pictured myself attending Hogwarts. I knew magic wasn’t real, but I thought that the dormitories, the corridors, and the faculty and staff would be similar to the school of magic I had desperately wanted to attend as a child. I could not have been more wrong.
Within moments of entering the school, I knew this was no longer a fantasy. The rooms were tiny. The wing commons were decorated with pieces of paper. There were leaks in the ceiling and there was no grand hall to eat food in. 1502 did not feel like Gryffindor. As sophomore year began, my Hogwarts fantasy vanished from my head, replaced by the homework assigned by my teachers. My mind went from thinking of spells and magical chocolate and quidditch to focusing on my academics, writing debate cases, studying for HOSA, and writing. My mind filled with all the possibilities open to me for junior and senior year.
My three years at IMSA were well spent, and as strange as it sounds, IMSA was better than Hogwarts. I wouldn’t replace my friends or my teachers with anyone from the wizarding world. Like Hogwarts, IMSA taught me more than just school. I learned to live a life with other people, thinking about more than just me. I realigned my priorities, understanding that sometimes, the most courageous thing to do isn’t taking on every task, but rather, it is saying no, even if it is to those we love the most.
IMSA was by no means easy, but every hour of sleep lost and tears shed was worth it. After all, the things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the ways we expect. IMSA repaid me with something I never saw coming: a home and a family. Every day I was surrounded by my best friends, whether I was doing homework with them, taking walks on access, prepping for CLASH, playing speedball on the courts, or cards in the hall commons. The way I fell in love at IMSA was not something I could have seen coming, but it is something I am grateful for. I could never tell the Class of 2019 just how much I love them, but I hope they know how proud I am to have been a part of such an incredible class. IMSA was transformative, making me who I am today, and it was magical in its own sense.
I am eternally grateful for the support of my teachers and mentors, including Dr. Randall, Dr. Rettberg, and the late Dr. Chinwalla, to name a few. Without them, my IMSA experience would not have been as incredible as it was. Dr. Chinwalla was my inspiration to start learning about the MLL1 gene, and while I learned a great deal about cancer from her, I learned a lot more about life from her. She was one of the strongest, bravest, and most compassionate people I have ever met, and it was with her support, that I had the courage to start my journey on public health advocacy. Dr. Randall and Dr. Rettberg were two teachers who I could always count on, whether it was to talk about their class or to just learn more about life from their experiences. I was fortunate enough to continue my research under Dr. Randall during my senior year, and Wednesdays in the biology lab were my favorite hours of the week. Dr. Randall trusted me, letting me run free with my project and design my own experiment, only providing me with her guidance, but never the answer. While it was difficult, I felt accomplished at the end, knowing I had discovered something new about the MLL1 gene through my own creativity. I never considered myself an english fanatic, but Dr. Rettberg changed the way I viewed english classes. Having had him as my first english teacher at IMSA, my future english endeavors were far simpler, as he improved my writing in numerous ways. Dr. Rettberg always encouraged me to write about the unique ways in which I understood stories, and while I often did not agree with the norms, he never steered me away from questioning the status quo. It was with his guidance that I was able to begin writing about more controversial topics for inConsequential.
The end of IMSA was inevitable, but on the day of graduation, as I left behind everything I knew, I felt a thousand heartbreaks all at once. Within moments, I had lost my home, my family, and all the comfort found on campus. That is, until I realized that home isn’t a place for me, but rather, it is people. And IMSA was never a place, it was a people. While I know that I won’t attend the Academy as a student again, I will always have the class of 2019 and the IMSA faculty as my family.
So, thank you, IMSA, for making my Hogwarts fantasy come true, even if it was not how I expected. In three, short years, you gave me a lifetime’s worth of memories and a long-lasting home and family.