It’s such a simple question.
“Where did you grow up?”
It’s something I feel like I get asked every day.
The simple answer is listed on my passport and my birth certificate and slips out of my mouth with ease. We all know our towns, our family home, our childhood bedrooms.
But seemingly without notice, the answer has changed. A paradigm shift has taken place, and I realize now that I actually grew up in the last four years, not in the 20-odd ones that preceded it.
The honest answer now is, “I grew up at ICO.”
The hallowed halls of school were my playground, my nursery, my school house, my detention, and my time-out corner. The RC was where I met some of my lifelong friends, the Lecture Center was where I drew all over my notes, the big room on the second floor of the library was where I ate my body weight in candy as I studied, and the dimly lit Eyepod was where I discovered the intricacies of the ocular tissues.
When I arrived fresh on the scene four years ago, I doubt I could recognize who I’ve become now. I used to be shy and introverted, and now you’d be hard-pressed to get me to shut up. I didn’t know the difference between being a Bears fan and a Packers fan, and I wasn’t entirely sure what the I-90 was. Now I’m ripping on referees with the best of them, and honking on my horn like it’s my job. Oh, and I learned how to be an optometrist. Sidebar.
I feel like everyone is a little different after ICO. Our faces have aged, our hair has grown, our wide-eyed innocence has been marred by too much proparacaine. But change is good–and essential.
It’s hard to close the ICO chapter of my life, and even harder to realize it’s coming to an end. I feel like I’m scrambling to write things in the margins before the book closes. Sometimes I’m caught off guard by the things that strike me. Seeing that epic skyline as we drive on Lake Shore and realizing I won’t see it for a while. Or taking a thousand photos of the Bean, trying to find that perfect angle. Or enjoying a cold 312 and panang curry at Opart Thai. I’m going to miss things I barely realized I cared about.
But the hardest thing of course, is to say goodbye to the things I know I care about.
Like everything in life, it’s the people that you meet along the way that shape your experiences. As much as I pored over the retinoscopy lectures in first year, it was my lab partner that I will always associate with “against motion add minus.” I’ve seen the corner 31st Street and Indiana countless times, but it’s my friends and our ill-fated decision to move all my belongings (including a half-open Tide detergent box) on a wobbly cart that I’ll never forget. Sitting in the Lecture Center for hours seems like a distant memory, but negotiating past everyone’s knobby knees, and trying not to spill Security coffee on my neighbor’s notes as I scrambled for my clicker seems like just yesterday. In the next decade or two, 31st Street Beach will likely develop and become unrecognizable, but it will always be where I splashed in the water with my favorites and shamelessly blasted One Direction’s latest record. The corner of Devon and Western will always be where I found out I passed boards and squealed with glee with my ladies. Every class, every Chicago street corner, every entrance test I learned, carries with it a person I met in Chicago.
ICO is a crucible. When you entered through the glass doors (even though the sign clearly tells you to use the turnstile between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.), you were probably a different version of who you are when you exit. I chose optometry but I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and definitely didn’t know that in the four years in between White Coat Ceremony and Commencement, I’d not only found a career I loved but people that I love too.
Class of 2014: We left our mark. We were sassy. We were frassy. We scored high, we danced low.
We were the last class that got to sit in the old and new Lecture Center.
We were the first class to use EHR in clinic.
We saw the courtyard change from stone to red, we witnessed the doors open to the Rosenbloom Center, and we saw the Library doors close as the renovation broke ground.
We caused trouble in town meetings. We broke a few hearts and even more records.
We turned the gym into a nightclub and made Micheal Jackson proud, dancing in what can only be described as a hug circle.
The next chapter is a big one: We all have OD stapled to the end of our names and the big Dr. in front of it. It’s hard to stomach that I’m saying goodbye to the people I will always associate with those letters. However, I take comfort in knowing that even though people will come and go from my life, they’ve helped shape my perception, my vision and my outlook. So even if I don’t see them everyday, they are an indelible part of the way I see. My attendings, my professors, the cafeteria guy–all these men and women have redefined me and have contributed to my new sense of home in Chicago. Most of all, however, it is my classmates. My colleagues for life. My eternal partners in crime.
Even though the future may be a little cloudy (1+ NS, 1+ anterior cortical) , it seems only fitting to say farewell to each other with this quote from Henry David Thoreau:
“What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when you bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen.”
Class 2014: I wish each and every one of you nothing but the best. I am honored to be included amongst your ranks and to say that I spent four years working and learning alongside you amazing human beings. I look forward to the success and greatness you will achieve beyond the halls of ICO, personally and professionally.
Alright, that’s enough crying you big softies.
If any of you run for office, rest assured I have incriminating stories at my disposal. Just kidding, I’ll probably forcibly write your campaign speeches.
That’s all kiddos. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.