By Andrew | April 30, 2011
With a title like “Canisius,” it has to be good. Previously in my posts about transferring, I discussed at length what it was like to have been studying creative writing at Geneseo. The situation there wasn’t right for me, and my art was suffering from the environment.
Now, I really want whomever may be reading this (if anyone beside my immediate family does read this) to keep in mind that whatever I say about Geneseo is simply my experience. It’s a fine institution full of great, passionate professors and excited students, and deciding to transfer was, as should be clear by now, not the easiest decision. You always develop relationships with people no matter where you are, unless you’re a troll. But one of the most difficult things about transferring was the thought of telling the people I had come to know at Geneseo that I would be leaving. It’s almost a sort of feeling of betrayal––like saying they weren’t good enough. That coupled with the fundamental feelings of uncertainty, disillusionment, and misdirection already associated with wanting to transfer practically paralyzed me. Ignoring my feelings and hoping for the best was an option for me and may have been the easiest. After all, I think most students have doubts about their college decision.
I am amazed that, of all the guides to picking colleges out there, there isn’t one that helps students who seriously doubt their decision. I guess it makes sense that there aren’t: the writers of those guides wouldn’t want to write one for transfer students because it would seem they had misled you, made a mistake, and need to cover it up. As someone who had read those college guides before making my first decision in senior year, I can say they try their best to help you, but they do have a tendency to make mistakes and mislead you. Students who are considering transferring are very different from those considering where to go to college for the first time. At least for me, I not only felt uncomfortable with the academics but also a cocktail of other emotions that high school seniors wouldn’t: feeling like a misfit, disillusioned, afraid, demoralized, down on yourself. There’s so much propaganda (many of which come from those college guides) associated with college that is understated but very effective. The only stories you hear are of people who just loved, loved, loved, loved, loved their college to pieces the first time they stepped foot on whatever U of X quad and never reconsidered, which I think is sincere for many people but very rare. To feel something other than thinking your college was divinely revealed to you is essentially heretical, and considering transferring makes you really feel like you screwed up or like you just can’t hack it wherever you are. On top of all of that, you’re alone. There is no guide, no expert, no special member on a college’s faculty to tell you want to do, how to examine yourself, or even just the mechanics of transferring. You’ve only got yourself and the recommendations of others who may have gone before you, but even only their knowledge is personal and not at all codified. It is something you can only to do by, with, and for yourself.
If you happen to be in a situation where you’re uncomfortable or uncertain, you need to have the courage to explore your feelings, forget what would be easiest or more inline with what you’re “supposed” to feel, and figure out what is best for you. After having been through it, I think that if the idea of transferring crosses your mind and you’re starting to notice real personal changes––for me, it was stagnated writing and an uninspired life––those doubts become a matter of your own well-being. You deserve a change. After discussing the issue with my girlfriend, family, close friends and professors, I made the decision to transfer. I needed to leave Geneseo. But leave to where?
I started by revisiting the criteria I had used when first looking at colleges in my senior year. Things had to be reordered. Before, the only positive thing I had looked for at colleges was cost. I wanted to graduate without any loans to pay off. Although price is still important to consider, it shouldn’t be the number one thing. Otherwise, you could end up cheating yourself like I did. Don’t let yourself ignore a school that may be right for you just because of its price tag. After shifting cost down to a more reasonable tier, the things that I decided ought to be most important was location and program. It may seem obvious that those should be most important, but for a high school senior itching to leave home and try new things in a new place, they may not be as high on the list as they should be. As far as location, I knew I was looking to come back home to Buffalo where I could be closer to my loved ones. I decided that part of the reason I was unhappy and uninspired was because I wasn’t around those who make my life vital––my family, girlfriend and of course, my pets. As for a program, I was looking for a creative writing program with the resources that I could actually help me learn and write.
After honestly considering my priorities, there was only one option: Canisius College. Having attended Canisius High School just a few blocks down the road, I was very familiar with the College and the Jesuits, but this had an unintended consequence. As a senior preparing to leave high school, I wanted to do just that––leave––and Canisius College was closely linked to my high school experience and not only just in name. I spent a great deal of time at Canisius College during my senior year: between drumming in the Golden Griffin Pep Band (which is coordinated by the Canisius High School jazz band) and attending every reading by visiting authors and professors, the College was practically integral to my pre-college education. My thinking, though, was why should I leave Canisius only to go to Canisius? So I wrote it off my list. This was entirely wrong-headed. My time in high school was great because it was so closely linked to the College. I had, in ignoring Canisius the first time around, completely missed the right school for me.
The most practical thing that really excited me the second time around was the creative writing program. At the same time I was considering transferring, trying to get out of a program that had been largely gutted, Canisius was developing a vibrant creative writing major led by Dr. Mick Cochrane. It is a comprehensive program incorporating everything a developing writer needs: an emphasis on small, intimate workshops, frequent readings by visiting writers, the resources of a unique metropolitan city, and a faculty consisting of energetic, published writers like Mick Cochrane who are passionate about teaching and developing their students’ potential. It’s a promising, well-funded program that, when compared to other undergraduate creative writing courses at other colleges, is really superior. Whatever I was missing at Geneseo I saw (and now have) at Canisius. (Shameless plug for the program: if you’re looking to study creative writing as an undergraduate, I am convinced there is no better place to do so than at Canisius College.)
Canisius is simply unique. For one thing, it is run and staffed by the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic religious order known for their commitment to social justice and education. Even if you’re not Catholic, studying in a Jesuit environment is vastly rewarding. Jesuit education is not indoctrination; it is nurturing and encouraging students to question preconceptions, find their own understanding of things, and be an activist; it is educating the whole person. Here at Canisius, you’ll notice two phrases: “men and women for others” and “magis,” a Latin term for “more.” These ideas exemplify the call to justice from individuals of character and, in a way, dissatisfaction: always learn more, do more, be more. It’s an excellent environment to learn in.
With a general educational philosophy like that of the Jesuits, Canisius College is a school that does not compromise: it demands the best from not only its students but also its professors and staff. In my process of transferring, I met several people to whom I owe my gratitude for being able to attend. Simply interacting with them showed me that this was the right decision. They all have a dedication to their students that is to come by, between the admissions staff and the professors. Every person I met took the time to know me and my situation. They really made me feel comfortable; and not just comfortable, but respected; and not even just respected, but wanted. They see potential in everyone and are ready to take the time and give every student the resources to become everything they could be.
If you’ve taken the time to read this memoir/Tolstoy novel, your dedication may be interested in seeing where all of this has landed me. Yes, I have had to take loans to study here, but it’s an investment. Here at Canisius, I am happier than I ever could have imagined being at a college. I’m actually studying what I want to study now and being challenged as a writer everyday. I’m part of a community that cares about every part of an individual. I’m getting the experience and education that is really preparing me for what I want to do. I’m doing things I have never done before, between editing the newspaper, attending special unveiling ceremonies of The Quadrangle literary magazine, and interviewing pop star Sara Bareilles before she performed at Canisius. I’m around people who make me happy and inspire me: my professors, my friends, my family, my girlfriend–– and yes, even my cat (I promised I would mention her). But if everyone were to ask me if I were to somehow change my experience, I don’t know how I would answer. I went from feeling stagnant, miserable, and lost to vibrant and excited, and I have learned a lot from transferring. It’s a weird feeling of disillusionment and enlightenment, and I feel I understand myself better for having gone through it. I’ve got my happy ending now.