By Sims Boulware Bullock
I needed to be pushed – okay forced – out of the confines of my South Carolina hometown into Boarding School. My parents knew that I needed to be challenged more academically and that I would benefit socially from meeting kids from other parts of the world, but I was too scared and yes, maybe a little too stubborn to see their line of reasoning. How was I going to survive without my best friends? What if the girls there didn’t like me? What if I wasn’t as smart as everyone thought I was? My stomach was in a ball of knots. But they packed me up and off we went.
After twelve hours in the station wagon, we finally made it to the place where I would spend the next three years. It was then that I played my last and final card. I threatened that they would have to take all my clothes off before I set one foot out of the car. Of course, it didn’t come to that. As we pulled up, my two roommates came running down and excitedly beat their hands on the window, opened the car door and enthusiastically pulled me out. It was the first of many loving nudges that I would experience while at school. As I hugged my parents goodbye, I knew deep down that I was about to embark on an adventure that would change the course of my life.
My best friend to this day, I met the first day I was there. She was also from a small town in South Carolina and, figuring that no one else could understand our accents, we decided to become fast friends. Our unique way of seeing the world was lovingly accepted just as we accepted the girls from Aruba, London, Colombia, and Turkey. The more we got to know each other, the more we discovered that it was our very differences that made our friendships stronger. I taught them how to make grits, and explained that every 14-year- old Southern kid didn’t drive a tractor. I introduced them to my favorite country music, and they introduced me to classic rock and non-sugared, non-iced tea!
Academically I always excelled but learning at a boarding school was different. My teachers were also my mentors, my coaches, and when I really needed them, my biggest fans. My history professor, Dr. Littlefield, would take us hiking on the weekends and, over roasted marshmallows, teach us about how Ghandi fought for independence without firing a single bullet. My honors English teacher, “Fletch,” would have me to her house for coffee and encourage me to find my writing voice. To counter my fears, she explained that all good writers are insecure about their work. She believed in me, as did all my teachers. And I soon discovered that, with that much love, confidence and support behind you, you start believing in yourself too.
Early in my senior year I knew where I wanted to go to college but was nervous about applying ‘early decision.’ The old familiar pangs of insecurity were back and wreaking havoc on my self-confidence. What if I didn’t get in? What if I wasn’t good enough? I remember agonizing over my college essay with Fletch when she told me that I was looking at this whole process in the wrong way. She reminded me that life is about taking chances. Real failure is not putting yourself out there. She gave me that much-needed nudge to send in my application, and I hoped for the best. When I got the good news from my college of choice, my whole school congratulated me with pride. I remember thinking that this wasn’t just my accomplishment. It was theirs, too. Together, we were a force to be reckoned with.
Though tough to leave my friends and teachers after graduation, I was excited about what was to come. I was no longer that shy girl from South Carolina who needed to be kicked out of her comfort zone. I was ready for whatever life had in store, and I soon realized that just because I was leaving the school, the school would never leave me. When I wanted to take on a new job at an advertising agency in New York, or ask my boss for a promotion, or start my own greeting card business, I remembered that I had my school behind me, cheering me on and lovingly giving me that little nudge to believe in myself.
It’s true, I didn’t want to go to boarding school. But as the Rolling Stones so aptly put it, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”