Last weekend, one of my friends helped me take graduation photos around Decker Quad. It was unusually cold and windy. We posed in front of the lecture halls and admin buildings that framed the well-tended lawn, forcing smiles against cool gusts of spring air that whipped across the quad.
We then made our way to Garland. The walkway leading up to the entrance was a familiar sight, one I hadn’t seen in what felt like a year. It was then that vague images began to take shape in my mind’s eye — memories of my first day at Hopkins.
On a parched August afternoon four years ago, I got off an Uber in front of Mason and lugged my heavy bags across the dull, brownish-yellow walk alongside Garland, headed for the check-in site for new freshmen. I was dressed in an Old Navy checkered shirt and khakis, sweating out of my mind. Needless to say, my first moments on campus were uncomfortable.
In the following weeks, this physical discomfort was replaced by a sort of mental discomfort; I felt out of place among my brilliant peers and was burdened by late nights at the library, struggling to understand Shakespeare sonnets and molecular orbital theory.
It was only by turning to the world outside of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library (MSE) and Brody that I felt this discomfort begin to melt away. I started volunteering with various student groups and began writing for The News-Letter, which afforded me opportunities to leave campus and get to know people in the community — to work alongside them, to get to know their stories, to feel like I was part of something beyond the confines of Homewood’s libraries and lecture halls.
Whether it was helping with construction projects in Sandtown, playing violin for patients at hospitals downtown or interviewing people at the 2019 Baltimore Women’s March, I began to fall in love with Charm City. In the second semester of freshman year, I made going off campus a priority. I wanted to take time to leave campus at least once a week, either through a student group or just to take a break from studying.
I wanted to make getting to know Baltimore a more regular part of my life, even if it was just a couple of hours on a Saturday.
As I round off the last days of my final semester, there are so many things I’ll miss about Baltimore’s many charms: going to concerts at Windup Space, attending talks at Motor House, walking around the farmers’ markets at Waverly and Jones Falls, perusing obscure books and records at Normal’s, picking up novels at The Book Thing in Abell, getting dinner at Thai Restaurant on Greenmount Avenue.
Taking in the sunrise at Druid Hill Park with friends, visiting the rhinos and birds at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, appreciating the sculptures at the Walters, navigating the crowds at the Station North Arts District during Artscape, visiting a friend’s exhibition at the Maryland Institute College of Art, grabbing a snack from The Bun Shop, strolling around Patterson Park with ice cream from Bmore Licks in tow — the list goes on.
That’s not to say I won’t miss being at Hopkins. As I adjusted to life in Baltimore and made more friends, I grew in appreciation for all the things that Hopkins offered. Classes taught by erudite professors, all doing incredible research in the humanities and the sciences. The thought-provoking seminars and talks that made me re-examine the world around me. The small but beautiful campus that, as a Texan, never ceases to astound me for how green and hilly it is. The illuminating study sessions at the library. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friends, the people who made long nights on M-Level less lonely.
When we finished at Garland and made our way to the Breezeway, up the stairs and across the grass in front of MSE, I felt kind of sad, knowing that the Lighting of the Quads that took place in December was my last. We arrived at the beach, where people were throwing frisbees and sprawling themselves out on picnic blankets — where one night, around 1 a.m., I joined my friend in rolling down the hill with reckless abandon to celebrate the end of finals.
We planted our feet in front of the Hopkins sign on North Charles before separating. There was just one word that kept coming to mind as the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds above Homewood: gratitude.
If I could send a letter back in time to that overwhelmed freshman ponderously lugging his luggage across campus, in search of some obscure place called “AMR II,” I would say:
That the next four years will be challenging but rewarding beyond all measure. That studying at the library, though important, isn’t everything there is to life. That as long as you do your best in your academic and personal endeavors, you can trust yourself to be happy with whatever follows. That you’ll face unexpected setbacks in the second half of junior year due to a worldwide public health emergency. And most importantly, that by turning outward — toward engagement with the wider Hopkins and Baltimore community — you’ll not only find happiness but also come to cherish this new home as your favorite place on earth.
Jae Choi is a senior from Carrollton, Texas studying Neuroscience and English. He is an aspiring MD candidate. In his column, he enjoys making sense of extended stays at home during the pandemic and finding significance in everyday activities.