The night before I moved to college at NYU, 18 years ago this fall, my parents and I ate in a diner in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As I cried into my food, ridden with anxiety at the biggest change of my life, our waitress offered her unsolicited advice. With long nails and sky high hair, her thick Jersey accent shared: ‘Whatever you do, don’t look up! If you do, they’ll know you are a tourist and they’ll mug you!’
Who ‘they’ was, I don’t know. But her words stuck with me throughout college and for the rest of my ongoing urban existence. Keep it moving. Look like you belong. Turn inwards or else you’ll be opened to the world in a way you may not want to be.
In spending the last 36 hours in New York, it struck me that a lot has changed since half a lifetime ago in Manhattan. Mr. Softee cones seem to have doubled in price. Every bodega I remember from college seems to have been replaced by a bank. But not all the news is bad.
Last night, I enjoyed the company of the newest members of the GW community, many New York residents of the Class of 2022. These hopeful beings, optimistic in their vision and ready to downsize to a smaller town down the Northeast Corridor, were born the year of my diner visit in Elizabeth. They lived through 9/11 but blessedly may not remember it. Their parents bought them milk in those aforementioned bodegas, but all they can potentially recall are the banks. They enjoyed Mr. Softee cones, regardless of the price.
And last night – GW told them to look up.
The message was subtle at first, so quiet I barely noticed it. But first an alum, then a current student, then a colleague at the university all echoed the same sentiment at this welcome event. Worry less about your classes and more about your life. Take your head out of your books and put it into the world’s questions, many of which are written based on the daily workings of this new city of yours. Do not be afraid of what you may see if you look up. Be afraid of missing what you will miss, if you keep your head down.
Have you looked up lately? And can we work to be part of a world that encourages others to do the same?