Here’s to Old RPI

I visited my alma mater in May.  Not my undergrad alma mater, where I spent time in classes almost as big as my entire high school, developed close friendships, attended frat parties, hung out at the Union(s), and gabbed all night with girlfriends.  My graduate alma mater, where I spent late (very late) nights working on HW problems, took written and oral exams that could make or break a career in graduate school, and spent sleepless nights wondering why I was there.  I’ve always said that graduate school was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I was so happy to move on after earning my PhD.  I was quite surprised, then, by the sentimental feelings that came over me as I walked into the Science Center, said hi to former professors, and relived all those years in those hallways, classrooms, and offices in a single moment.  Even the walk up to the 3rd floor and to the Starlab (where all the astro grad students had desks) was comfortable and familiar.

At a dinner organized by my former advisor, I talked to three current graduate students, asking them if they’ve visited Bennington or seen a show at Proctor’s Theater.  I advised them to go up to Saratoga and take in a performance by the New York City Ballet this summer and to not miss the pizza and wings at Valenti’s. I told them to roadtrip to Mystic, CT and eat at Mystic Pizza  (Egad!  They hadn’t even heard of the movie!) and to shop the outlet malls at Lake George.  So many fun things to do in the area – things that are unappreciated when one lives here but nonetheless return happy memories when thinking about them again.  I fondly remember many nights at Uncle Sam’s Troy Brew Pub, now Brown’s Brewing Co.  The decor hasn’t changed at all and the cherry raspberry ale still tastes the same! I had remembered the hard work of classes and research, but I’d forgotten about the fun social things I’d done.  Darts, anyone?

These were not the feelings I expected.  I expected to simply tolerate my visit, meet with the people I had to meet, and brush aside the memories of the “hell of graduate school”.  Instead, I visited my old apartment building, walked worn paths to and from campus, entered former classrooms, and gazed up at the magnificently-architectured buildings – buildings that house a history of higher education spanning 187 years.  I realized that my time at RPI was a time that transformed me into a critical thinker, a problem solver, a star gazer, an outreach educator, and a scientist.  RPI helped make me the person I am today.

So, here’s to you, graduate school. I raise my glass of cherry raspberry ale and remember the good times and the friends I made at dear Old RPI.


Nicolle stands in front of the Science Center and the Hirsch Observatory on the RPI campus (May, 2011)



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