Alexa Doncsecz is a 2013 graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Alexa has a B.S. in Biology and is currently the Assistant Coordinator for Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Allentown.
When you’re seventeen and about to begin your senior year of high school, choosing the college where you will spend the next four years and obtain your higher education is very likely the biggest decision you have ever made. For me, it stirred up images of the famous poem by Robert Frost, of two roads being diverged in a yellow wood along a path that was once so straight, so predictable. Except in my case, there were a lot more than two roads.
As I began to consider different schools I thought of every option as a different road. So in this “yellow wood” there were more like fifteen roads diverging from the original path. Overwhelming, for a teenager whose biggest decision up to that point was between Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs for breakfast.
It occurred to me early on in my college search that each alternative represented a completely different life. The school I chose would lay the foundation for all of my friendships, relationships, career connections and geographical surroundings for the next four years. And what would come after my graduation day would inevitably stem from those experiences. The way I saw it, I was making one very simple choice that would just happen to set the stage for the rest of my life.
The season of visiting colleges and embarking on campus tours soon approached. It was the summer before my senior year of high school and my father took me on a weeklong trip to visit ten schools I wanted to see. As the trip came to an end, I was overwhelmed with my options. University of Maryland, Baltimore County was a big school. It would allow me to meet a lot of new people from all different backgrounds. University of Pittsburgh was right in the middle of the city. I could just leave my room and walk around town. And the Station Square area downtown was beautiful, somewhere I would consider myself lucky to get to hang out on the weekends.
A slogan Ithaca College boasts is “Ithaca is Gorges,” and it was. Gorgeous, that is. The campus was big and green and bright, although all the summer construction happening during my visit didn’t do it justice. Notre Dame definitely put up a fight, but I knew right away that Indiana was farther from my home in eastern Pennsylvania than I wanted to go.
Fast forward to the end of the story: those who know me know that I am a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Many of them also know that I graduated in the pouring rain, on the coldest day in May 2013, and when I finally walked across the East Portico steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to receive my diploma I was completely drenched from head to toe (because the Bachelors of Science are announced after all of the Bachelors of the Arts).
So how did that happen? The Catholic University of America was not even one of the many schools I toured in the summer months before I began my senior year of high school! In fact, I had never even heard of the university until after I had already arrived on campus for a school field trip.
The field trip was something my high school referred to as the Allentown Diocese Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. It was optional. The school had ordered three charter buses and needed to fill them, so I signed up. I’m not sure it really mattered where I was going or what the events of the day would be – any diversion from the norm was welcome. I woke up at five that morning and boarded the bus with a few friends. I don’t think I had the faintest clue what the trip was all about. As with most of life’s providential moments, this one began with me completely oblivious to the importance that day would soon hold.
I don’t remember the bus ride. My first cohesive memory of the “Allentown Diocese Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.” was looking out the bus window as we pulled up to the most incredible building I had ever seen. I looked up at its beautiful architecture, amazed at how the brilliance and glory of hat building were somehow too great to be taken in through my humble bus window. The thought that went through my mind at that moment, that to this day I still haven’t forgotten, was I don’t know what this is, but this can’t be the last time I see it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I didn’t know it at the time, but my bus had just pulled onto the campus of a college I had never heard of, The Catholic University of America. And I didn’t know it at the time, but about four years later I would be walking across those same steps, being cheered on by friends and family after lots of hard work and countless memories and people I will never forget, to receive my college degree.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never lose that feeling I had the first moment I looked out the window onto that campus. For four years I would feel just as at home, just as at peace, just as certain that of all the places a person could find themselves in this life, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
In a way, the decision was already made that moment when I looked at the Basilica from the inside of a bus that I very well may never have been on. I often wonder where I would be had I never gone on that trip, had I not known about it, had I decided to just spend that day in class. There are many factors that go into the way we choose a college, and often that decision is wrought with many pressures and external forces and this abstract yet overarching idea of getting it “right.” But I think the most we can ask for is when, in the end, you didn’t choose your college at all, and that instead, you know in your heart, it chose you.