Upward Bound

One Student's Story

By Joy Harrington, Lewiston High School 2012

JoyWith a slight swipe of a plastic white card, I was in a barren gray suite. A scratchy couch lined one wall, and a picture window filled another. Two bedrooms and an oversize bathroom branched off the common room. It was not my idea of home, but it was my idea of freedom. Little did I know how much more of a home that suite would become to me than my own home in Lewiston.

Claiming one of the flannel mattresses as my own, I dropped my bags and followed my family back outside to the car.

"Are you sure you have everything? Are you sure you want to do this? It's not too late, you can come home with us. Call if you need anything at all, " Mom worried.

I sighed, ready to move on from this moment. "I'll be fine, Mom. I'll call you tonight."

And with that exchange and too many hugs, my family drove off and I was alone. I knew only one other person on the first day, but they were nowhere to be seen. My roommate hadn't even arrived yet. I entered my room again and pretended to unpack. I sat on my bed and observed the white walls around me. I counted the mirrors in the suite (there were six). When it came down to it, though, I had no idea what to do.

After everyone had arrived to the dorms, we assembled into a large circle on the lawn. As we started the ice breakers, I looked around me at the ninety other faces. There was no way for me to understand how those kids would affect my perspective on life that summer. It wasn't possible to predict the level of the bonds that would be developed. I had no idea on that day what the summer would provide for me.

"I can't believe he would say that!" Holly exclaimed.

"Girl, you deserve better than that. Ignore him," Cheyenne advised, with a bit of the attitude she was reknowned for.

Michelle changed the subject with, "You guys, I swear, if I hear her say another word... I might go insane." (Which we would probably all agree with...)

Among my closest posse of friends I made this summer, "I need a heart-to-heart!" was an extremely common phrase that was usually exclaimed around 9:37 every night after Milk Break. We'd crowd around in our pajamas in the common room of someone's dorm, usually my own or Cheyenne and Taylor's. For forty straight minutes, a clamor about boys, school, parents, and life would fill the room as we munched on too much junk food.

As the days went on, the concept of time was swept under the carpet and the hours blended together in a whirlwind. My family became the 80 kids living with me in Howard Hall and Stowe Hall. Anything and anyone that wasn't on campus with us melted away. I felt isolated from the real world and I was loving every moment of it.

Upward Bound Group 2010Friendships were put on fast-forward by living with others 24/7. By the third week, I knew the other kids better than some I had grown up with back in Lewiston. I fell in love with the friendships I developed. It became evident to me what I want in a friend, and these kids provided all that and a bag of chips. Among the important people I met this summer is Michelle. We shared a love for wearing socks and Adidas sandals, throwing fruit at trees due to pure energy, and laughing when everyone else feels awkward. Michelle has come to be one of my best friends, and we're lucky we only live twenty minutes from each other, unlike the five hours that separates many of the kids from Downeast Maine from the rest of us. Everyone I met this summer taught me something, and the most prevalent message was that it's okay to absolutely be myself.

The summer wasn't spent on only fooling around with friends, though. A good chunk of our time went towards college preparation. Often at the daily community meeting, a staff member would announce, "There's a sign up sheet on the door... over there... if you're interested in the college visit this weekend." The sheets would often be filled up by dinner time that night. We had many guest speakers such as Michael Wingfield, an African drummer, who emphasized that we make an impact on the world and will do great things in our lives, no matter where we come from. A Bowdoin admissions officer named Elmer taught us necessary interview skills, such as introductions and eye-contact. He did this by making every single one of us introduce ourselves to him until we could do it with a straight face and no stumbles.

Joy, Russ, and DominicWhile the seniors worked on their college essays, juniors worked on SAT-taking skills. By visiting St. Joseph's in Standish, Maine, I discovered I love small class sizes, but not campuses that are spaced out. An overnight trip to Massachusetts sparked an interest in all-women colleges that I'd never had before. And, my career options widened after I participated in a neuroscience workshop one week, dissecting creatures and brains, learning how the brain functions.

In six short weeks, I learned more about life than in the previous sixteen years I've lived. Some lessons were so small, they can't be pin-pointed. Others, such as being comfortable eating at a lunch table alone, were profound. I learned to say 'we' more than 'me'. I learned to appreciate what I have and what is given to me; not everyone is as lucky as I can be. These lessons will be carried with me for the rest of my life. Because of those six weeks, the world can see a better Joy today.

Before we knew what hit us, we faced the inevitable: the last night. On that last night, we met out on the lawn for the last time. As we gathered into a large circle, the summer itself came full circle. White, waxy candles were passed around and we cradled them gently, like somehow they would save the night.

"Take a step into the circle if you met someone this summer that you won't forget," Anna, our favorite activites planner, called out from the circle's center. We all stepped in, and slowly stepped back out.

"Take a step into the circle if you have changed this summer." We all stepped in, and slowly stepped back out.

"If you have a recognized a weakness in yourself this summer." We all stepped in, and slowly stepped back out again.

"If you found a way to overcome that weakness." We didn't all step in. Some of us were rooted to our spots.

"And, finally," Anna's voice cracked, "step into the circle if you will miss UB when you go home." We all took multiple steps towards the center that time. The tears started flowing from our eyes and it hit us that this was the beginning of the goodbye.

We wiped our eyes and restored the circle's shape. Slowly light went around the circle as the candles were lit. After all the lights were glowing, we went back around, silently remembering the summer's best moments. One by one, as the memories were captured and put in pockets, the candles were blown out.

When my turn came, I looked around at the tear-streaked faces of my friends. The past six weeks had been the decision I could have made for not only my summer, but my life at that point. A hundred laughs and smiles resonated through my mind, and I blew my candle out.