Swimming Lessons

21 March 2014 | 3:22 pm By:

stu-swim1

In the world of higher education, we tend to describe college in broad generalities. We overuse words like discovery, life-changing, dynamic and great. But is it? We wanted to find out, so we asked one student closing in on graduation to share her experience at the College. And we found that there just might be something to those old clichés.

by Victoria Hamilton

When I came to the College, I felt like I was jumping head first into a 12-foot-deep swimming pool.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was as ready for my introduction as I could be: I had all the items on the dorm list checked off, all my books ordered and a new college wardrobe
to match.

Still, I knew when I got here, none of this would matter, as it only matters what you have inside yourself that will make you succeed in college and in life. It’s like swimming: You can have the best swimsuit and goggles, but that won’t help you swim on your own.

Besides, I knew firsthand how you can have all the proper tools to master something, but still have to work hard to get it. This has been me my whole life because I was born with mild cerebral palsy.

When I was 3 years old, I was diagnosed with it because I wasn’t hitting all my milestones, such as rolling over or talking. My cerebral palsy affects my fine motor skills mostly in my throat and my hands. That means I write like a 5-year-old and it takes a bit of patience to understand me. But once you do, you’ll get an earful! I have never been quiet or shy. I’ve always been a people person and I’m most happy when I’m with my friends.

Since I’m an only child, and since I have CP, I have always been nurtured. I am blessed with an extraordinary mother, who has given me everything I needed to be the best I can be – from private lessons to the best tutors and so much love in between. I have to thank her for every accomplishment, because without her, I would be nothing.

So, I’ve always been given all the best tools to help me succeed. And that includes wonderful educators who’ve pushed me to my limit – but not so far that it scared me off. That is why I wanted to challenge myself by going somewhere a little out of my comfort zone. And, the College of Charleston was definitely that – not only was it five hours away from home, but I only knew one family in Charleston. It was a big jump.

I’m glad I jumped, though, because, in four years, I have managed to swim. I’ve made my own way – and waves – the whole time. Sure, I had some hiccups along the way – everyone does. There’s always something – like the dreaded freshman roommate drama – that seems to get in the way. But I have learned from every one of my mistakes, and that’s allowed me to make myself a better person. So I’m actually forever grateful for those hiccups.

I’ve been able to better myself, too, because of all the amazing people – friends and professors alike – whom I’ve met in the four years I’ve been at the College. I’ve felt like all of my professors have truly cared and wanted me to succeed. They’ve all challenged me in the best ways possible, and that has made me a better person. They’ve made me more well-rounded and have equipped me for the real world. I truly believe that, at the College, the faculty provides knowledge about life. They know that there’s more to education than facts and theories: A well-rounded education doesn’t come from a textbook.

In fact, sometimes it comes from your friends – and my friends have certainly allowed me to come into my own. My friends here are all so different, but they all are friends with one another. I really appreciate that, because in high school my friends were all from different groups, so I never felt I had one perfect niche. Sure, I felt included – I was on my school’s equestrian team all four years, and thus had a group to share goals and build memories with. I wanted that same sense of inclusion and belonging in college, too.

I got it when I joined a sorority my freshman year – at least at first. That first year, it was all I hoped the sorority experience would be: It was my home away from home, and I felt welcomed and included. Eventually, though, everyone drifted off to their separate cliques, and I was on my own again. I felt like I was back in high school, not knowing where to go from there.

I ended up going to the Kelly House residence hall, where I was paired up with a random roommate, Cara Fisher. The moment we met, she gave me a huge hug and invited me to meet all her friends. The rest was history, and all of “her” best friends are now also my best friends, even today. Cara really is the one who led me into my right niche: It wasn’t with the sorority – it was my Kelly House Kids!

I found my right niche in my college major, too. I loved psychology growing up. In fact, people would refer to me as
their therapist – even when I was just 10 years old! I would sit with them, listen to their life issues and give them advice. So I knew psychology was the right fit for me. When I came to the College and took all the general education classes, I questioned myself, thinking maybe I wanted to pursue a history degree or something else.

I circled back to psychology, however, when my SNAP (Students Needing Access Parity) adviser, Judith Steele – who had been working with me, coaching me, since Day One – suggested that if I thought psychology was my fit, I should stick with it. I knew to trust her because she’s been so wonderful to me, helping me with every pitfall and every low test score, and giving me the right advice all along the way. I credit most of my success at the College to the people of SNAP Services and the Center for Disability Services; they are all wonderful!

In the end, coming here was the best decision I’ve made in life so far, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next. Right now, though, I’m just happy that I took the plunge and that I’m swimming in the deep end at the College.

– Victoria Hamilton is a senior psychology major.

2 Comments on "Swimming Lessons"

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  1. Deb Thurston says:

    An amazing article by and about one AMAZING girl!

  2. Lilia G. Sadoux says:

    Amazing she has been since early on. I have had the privilege to tutor Tori in Spanish since 8th grade. She was always diligent, polite and caring. Tori never tried to get out the easy way. She pursued her study of Spanish to advanced levels, beyond the minimum requirement. I am so very proud of her and I am glad The College of Charleston was such a perfect fit for her.