With each pick, I began to notice their differences. Some had gold trimmings, some were yellow, some were brown, some were new, some were short, some were dull—each had a unique personality.
And as I placed them inside the machine, I noticed the many options but only one setting provided the perfect fit. Quickly, I switched each one out and watched them turn into something better--something desirable and ready for use.
In a short amount of time, I began to develop my own technique. A slight side-to-side rotation provided the perfect finish. Before I knew it, my task was done and I sat back in satisfaction pleased not only with the process but also my finished product.
And it dawned on me, sometimes life is like sharpening pencils.
I remember my senior year at Baylor University as a social work student. Repeated advice telling me to go on and get my Masters ran through my head as I began my search for the best Social Work graduate program.
As my eyes darted through the list, I read names like the University of Michigan, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University. A direct challenge to U.S. News and World Report, I began to re-rank the schools according to my standards, which had a simple evaluation system: weather, size of the city, and prestige of the university. Quickly my list of potential contenders began to shorten and I was left with the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and Washington University of St. Louis.
As I began to research each of these institutions, a slight adjustment had to be made due to a missed deadline which caused me to evaluate the University of Pennsylvania.
Coming from the inner city of Memphis, Tennessee where few can even recognize all of the Ivy League schools or know what a foot of snow looks like or even what accessible public transportation means, I quickly fell in love with the idea of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.
I remember the moment right before my mother drove back to Memphis. Based on my undergraduate experience, I knew that the next time she would be back in Philadelphia would be for my graduation. Tears started to swell into my eyes as the reality that the one person who knows me best was soon to leave me in the largest city I have ever lived in and at the most prestigious school I had ever attended.
Doubts over whether or not I would be able to find my way around the city, or if I was equipped to handle the demands of an Ivy League education flooded my mind. She simply looked down at me and gently said, “Say it with me…If it is….” I knew it well. I joined her in finishing a saying instilled in me by my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Morris. “...to be, it is up to me. I can fly, I can fly, I can fly. I can be anything I want to be. I can do anything I desire to do as long as I listen to people who care about me. If you are weak, you are beat. If you are wise, you will survive. I prepare myself for the doors of opportunity, so I can just walk right in. I can. I will. I believe. It is done.”
Two years later, at my graduation, my mother reminded me of that night. She merely said, “I told you so.” And as I introduced her proudly to my SP2 family and friends, I was most pleased not in my titles of being President of SP2 Student Government, Vice-President of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Hill College House Graduate Associate, and SP2 Dean Selection Committee member, but rather in the relationships I had formed with so many passionate, talented, and conscious individuals.
Much like the process of sharpening pencils, choosing the right graduate school is a process. The School of Social Policy and Practice for some will be the right setting. And for you unique individuals, the process of being refined will be aided by your investment in your own growth.
My experience within the School of Social Policy and Practice, the University of Pennsylvania, and the city of Philadelphia changed my life. It is for this reason that I am convinced that you cannot find a better learning environment. But, then again, I am biased. J
I wish you all the best in your decision-making process. May you make your journey your own and have lots of success.
Britney Thornton, MSW’14
Proud SP2/Penn Alum