By Collin Lawrence
I was raised in Elmhurst, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago that is similar to Carmel in many ways. I did well there. I got good grades, had friends, and in high school became a good cross country and track runner. Nevertheless, by the time I was a senior, I was ready to move on to something new. For one, I was tired of being compared to my twin brother. For another, I yearned for the independence of being away from home. I wanted to go away to a college where no one knew me and become my own person.
I attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and it was the perfect fit for me. It was a small school with students from all over the country. I ran on the cross country and track teams all four years, and my teammates remain some of closest friends to this day. I also took every class I could about education and social studies, and pursued my teaching certificate as an undergraduate.
My interest in teaching led me to apply for a non-profit internship called Summerbridge. I spent the summer after my junior year in Fort Worth, Texas, teaching an English class to middle school kids. The following year, I applied for the one international Summerbridge program, which happened to be in Hong Kong. I had never been outside the country.
I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Hong Kong program, and it changed the course of my life. During my first of what would be many summers in Hong Kong, I learned a lot about teaching non-native English speakers and made many close friends. I also met my future wife. I had to go all the way to Hong Kong to meet someone whose college was four hours from my own – the same college my twin brother attended.
I came back to Minnesota and took my first job teaching history and coaching track. My girlfriend moved to the same city and helped me through some hard times at the beginning of my career as a teacher. But she had ambitions of her own, and I didn’t have to think twice about casting my lot with her. So, when she got accepted into a history PhD program at Columbia University in New York City, I followed her out there.
We spent seven years in New York City. Those were tough years, but eye-opening ones. I taught in two different schools. Both lacked financial resources and administrative vision. My early days were characterized by chaos and I often felt dejected. I saw a lot: girls who got pregnant, kids who dropped out, kids who became victims of gang violence, and kids who persevered in spite of it all. But I also got better the longer I stayed at it. I learned how to establish my authority and engage my classes. I went from a timid young teacher to a supremely confident veteran.
During those years, I also became a husband, and then a father. My wife once told me that she could not promise me a stable life but she could promise me an exciting one. Life with her took me to New York City, and to China for a year, and we have had many experiences together that I never would have imagined for myself growing up in suburban Chicago. Then our lives changed dramatically in April of 2013 when our son was born. We gave up nights out to concerts or restaurants, but gained a family. He is the joy of our life.
Last year, my wife was at long last on the academic job market. For so many years, we had lived a temporary lifestyle, never quite moving in because we knew that someday we’d be moving out again. As a potential professor, my wife could well have been hired anywhere in the country (or in a foreign country), or not at all. After countless written applications, she had interviews in places as far west as Seattle and as far east as Virginia. We had no idea where we would end up. As it happened, she was offered campus visits at two schools in Indiana and accepted a position at Ball State. Shortly thereafter, I applied to University High School.
We feel incredibly fortunate to have found a new home in Central Indiana. Both Ball State and UHS represent exactly the types of communities that we’d hoped to raise our son around. For me, it feels especially sweet to come back to the Midwest. I am a different person now than I was when I went off to college so many years ago. For my son and for all UHS students: I hope you will take advantage of the opportunities life presents you and that you will go off and experience the world beyond what you knew when you were young. And then, when you are older and wiser, I hope that you will have the chance to come home.