My student advisor, who I did not know at the time would ultimately change my life by allowing me to live on campus on such short-notice, was a woman by the name of Tiffany Lambert—who, with sky-high blonde hair, had taken the time out of her personal schedule to meet with and guide me across the university’s grounds on the Saturday after I arrived.
“It’s so great to finally meet you,” I remember the woman saying for the umpteenth time. “It’s not very often a young student gets awarded such a prestigious fellowship.”
“Yeah,” I’d replied, a bit embarrassed over being so heavily lauded over. “I guess I just got lucky.”
“Lucky?” She scoffed. “You weren’t lucky, Mister McAllen—you’re talented. Be thankful that you got into this program. Not many young people do.”
I could offer little more than a nod as she continued to lead me across campus. Her sunny disposition was almost dizzying—to the point where, while following her, I had a hard time remaining calm and composed in light of everything that had happened. I felt completely overdressed in the blue jeans, black tee, and red vest I was wearing, especially when other people were walking around in tank-tops and shorts, but I knew most of that came from the fact that it was scorching hot outside. I’d wanted to dress to impress. In hindsight, I should have opted for comfort over style.
“As you can see,” Miss Lambert had continued, spinning while extending a hand at her side, “the campus is sprawling, but once you get your schedule and become accustomed to your weekly routine, you’ll get used to it fairly quickly. The dormitories you’re assigned to are along Sugar Road, the majority of the Student Service buildings are situated nearby, and all of your classes, and their locations, can be found in your pamphlet or on your interactive smartphone map. Plus: there’s a supermarket right down the road. Everything you could possibly need—from food, entertainment, to essentials and more—can be found along University Drive.
“Now: do you have any questions for me?”
“When will I get my hall pass and room key?” I asked. “I’m anxious to get out of my hotel.”
“You’re in a hotel?” she asked, frowning. “Do you not have any family in the area, Mister McAllen?”
“No. I… I don’t,” I said.
“I forgot that you came in from out-of-state,” she said, and sighed. “I’m sorry for being intrusive, Dean. I just want you to succeed, and would hate to see such a bright student suffer in discomfort even if it’s only for a few short days.”
“I’ll make do,” I replied. “I’ve learned to deal with rough times.”
She frowned, but didn’t say anything, though whether that was because she sensed that I might not have as wholesome a background as she originally believed, or for some other reason, I couldn’t be sure. Instead, she took a moment to compose herself, smiled a smile that I found was typical of people trying to avoid troubling circumstances, and said, “Welcome to the Rio Grande Valley! I know you’ll do great here!”
“Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate all of your help.”
“If you need anything from me, please feel free to reach out. I’d be more than happy to assist.”
With that, she’d turned and made her way into the university, leaving me with a sinking, and unsettling, feeling within my gut.
For several long moments, I’d simply stood there—unsure how to, or even if I should, feel.
In the end, I realized something.
Things could only improve from there on out.