Be “Gettysburg Great.” It’s broadcast on the website and featured in brochures. It’s something that we’re meant to aspire to as students and embody as alumni. It’s the line from President Janet Morgan Riggs’ graduation address to my class that I most remember. She asked us, one last time, to be Gettysburg Great.
I thought that this meant that there should be tangible proof that I was being Gettysburg Great. I wondered why, by six months after graduation, I hadn’t achieved total success. Instead, I found myself struggling through a master’s program and learning firsthand that finding my way post-grad was quite the difficult feat. I watched friends travel the world or start new jobs while I lived at home and panicked that teaching was not the right career for me, that I had peaked in college, and that I wasn’t living up to Gettysburg’s legacy.
I’m not being Gettysburg Great, I thought to myself one night as I fought through the commuter crowd in Grand Central after a 12-hour day. I was sure I had reached my breaking point, and I was going to have to drop out of graduate school and tell everyone that I had failed. I wasn’t good at teaching, I couldn’t balance commuting and school, and my hard-earned bachelor’s degree was for naught. Moreover, I had booked it uptown, and I was still going to miss my train.
BUT, I didn’t quit everything that night. I made the train with minutes to spare, and kept pushing through until, months later, I attended a lecture by education expert Shirley Steinberg. She said that sometimes we can make a difference in the world by doing something small and unnoticed. It doesn’t have to be a grand crusade; it can be a quiet gesture that impacts someone in a way that isn’t even realized at first. Maybe, I thought, this is what being Gettysburg Great means. Maybe it’s about the small things.
Maybe it’s waking up at 5:30 a.m. to commute into the city to teach elementary school, or being the youngest member of a grad school program, or devoting months to forming new friendships. Maybe it’s fighting to make a train from Grand Central, fighting through the twilight time known as post-grad, fighting against every obstacle that is placed before us. Being Gettysburg Great is about inching along and not giving up, even if it feels like we’re stuck in an abyss. It’s about the journey and the struggles that come with it, and that is how I know that even if everything is not so great right now, it will be.
Amanda Srere ’15 majored in English with a writing concentration. Formerly a contributing writer for The Gettysburgian, Srere teaches and attends graduate school in New York.