Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, everything revolved around Division I. You only ever heard of schools like the University of Michigan or Eastern Michigan or any of the Big Ten schools.
Then my cousin made the choice to swim for U of M, and once again, it was all about Division I. It was almost assumed that I'd be going to a larger school as that's what I'd been surrounded by throughout middle school and high school.
Senior year, however, my favorite teacher came up to talk about college with me. He knew I was never much of a big-school type of person. He brought up the idea of this small Division III school called Kalamazoo College just an hour and a half away. I'd never even heard of the city of Kalamazoo before this suggestion, but he always had this way of knowing exactly what was best and so I gave it a shot.
The thought of going to a Division III school had always been a concern of mine growing up. I knew that if I were to swim in college, more than likely, it would need to be at a smaller school if I actually wanted to compete. Still, though, I had this idea built in my head that Division Three meant less than. I never really put in the thought of what good could actually come from it.
Of course, despite all of those images in my head, ten months later I began packing my bags to drive 100 miles west to the City of Kalamazoo for my freshman year orientation at Kalamazoo College.
Growing up surrounded by big Universities and traveling to large campuses for swim meets, I thought I had an idea of what a college campus was going to be like. Just a bunch of students with earbuds in, ignoring quite literally everyone walking by as they went on their way to their next class. I never expected to be greeted the way I was at Kalamazoo College.
Immediately, I knew that I was where I needed to be. The last thing I wanted to see was how the swimming and diving team would be.
After spending just an hour with the team, it was as if a switch had flipped. All of those worries about not fitting in, about not being good enough to be on a team like that, even about not being tall enough, they all seemed to go away. I was greeted with open arms. Seniors were putting in the effort to come up to me and introduce themselves. They were excited for me to be a part of the team. It became a family to me right from the start.
Looking back a year and a half later, nothing has changed. That team is still my family. I can easily say that those people are some of the best things that have ever happened to me. Around my junior year of high school, college swimming became in doubt as I started to lose my love for the sport, but that family allowed me to find that love once more. They brought my competitive drive back. They got me to smile throughout practices. They showed me that I truly belong there.
Division III was never a place I grew up dreaming of ending up. The dream was always to find a home. To find a place that not only allowed me to swim but, more importantly, prepares me for my future. For me, that place is Kalamazoo College. Now, I still look back on the day that my high school teacher came up to me and brought up this school on the west side of Michigan. If only I knew then just how important that moment would end up being.
Kalamazoo College, founded in 1833, is a nationally recognized residential liberal arts and sciences college located in Kalamazoo, Mich. The creator of the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College provides an individualized education that integrates rigorous academics with life-changing experiential learning opportunities. For more information, visit www.kzoo.edu.