Posted by Ali Tejani
After spending three years at UT Dallas (UTD), it’s tough to remember the exact context for all the smiles and laughter. One thing that I vividly remember is the people who share these memories. The friends that I have made through the McDermott Scholars Program, both peers and staff, define my experiences over the years. With this group, even the most foreign places felt like home.
As a freshman in college, I had no idea what the future had in store. I remember feeling intimidated by the number of students on campus and the sheer volume of opportunities. Though the transition was tough, my new friends were always there to help me relax. I still remember the midnight study breaks spent trying to find bubble tea and the late nights at Klyde Warren Park after Dallas Arts’ performances. Some traditions, like late night Halo games, continue to this day.
Despite being new to UTD, I never felt lonely because I was able to step into the undergrad frontier with a group of McDermott friends in a similar situation. I always recognized at least one McDermott Scholar at organization meetings, which made me feel more comfortable.
After my first semester, I realized that I had limited time to take advantage of all the resources UTD had to offer. As a result, I became actively involved in several groups around campus, including Student Government and Student Ambassadors. In the moment, I was caught up with trying to have the most exciting or most unique experience. However, in retrospect, my positive memories of those experiences derive more from the people whom I’ve met than solely club participation. In fact, my most lucid memories are of the retreats spent eating copious amounts of cheese balls and staying up, talking till the early morning.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how close I had become with my friends at UTD until I studied away from campus. My adventures in Washington D.C. and Istanbul put me in an environment far outside of my comfort zone. In these unfamiliar settings, I turned to the one or two McDermott Scholars with me to anchor in a feeling of home and support. Memories of braving D.C. snow days and navigating Istanbul’s foreign culture are among my fondest recollections because of the people who helped form those experiences. These were the friends who laughed at my jokes and cheesy pick-up lines. These were the friends who shared my love of Thai food and longing to see Dallas again.
After spending seven months away and abroad, I yearned to see my old friends and campus. The McDermott Office was a sight for sore eyes, and the welcome back was as warm as ever. Even from my travels across the globe, I couldn’t find a group of people as supportive or as friendly as the McDermott staff. Observing as a senior, I can see that the office is a sanctuary for scholars braving the undergrad frontier. At any given time, I can walk into the office and speak with a scholar or staff member about my day. It’s comforting to know that a strong McDermott alumni support network awaits us in life after UTD to continue the support provided by current scholars and the office.
As senior year accelerates to graduation, I realize that the greatest challenge we face is trying to balance our busy schedules with spending enough time with each other. Even the time spent studying together is invaluable. It’s unclear what life after graduation holds for each of us; however, one thing is certain: we’ll still be there for each other through thick and thin.