When I read over my acceptance letter on a snowy day in January 2020 in an apartment on Chicago’s northwest side, I thought about what it had taken for that letter to land in my inbox. I thought about how I had borrowed books from the Peace Corps library in Morocco and studied for the exam every day of Ramadan. I thought about how I raced against a snowstorm and the clock to make it seven hours north to the capital to take the GRE at the AMIDEAST center in Rabat. While I was serving in the Peace Corps, I had 8 to 10 schools on my list at any given time. When the time came to actually commit, I thought about where I could really see myself and that was Heller. I withdrew the only other application I had submitted, put all my eggs in the Heller basket and it had worked out!
The problem was I had committed to a second term of service with AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago that would run from February 2020 to February 2021. To attend Heller, I’d have to end my service 6 months early. I had just transferred from a position as a VISTA Member to a position as a VISTA Leader supporting a full 45+ member cohort of volunteers working on sustainable, anti-poverty solutions.
Maybe you can understand why it was hard for me to type out my deferral letter. If I had accepted, I knew I would be leaving a lot unfinished in my role at AmeriCorps and I would be forfeiting another $6K Education Award. With my pre-COVID-19 naiveté, I thought an extra year would allow me to gain more work experience, build my Chi-town network, and still leave a few months to volunteer abroad. A week after my deferral request was accepted, my office went remote, my campus tour was canceled, toilet paper was flying off the shelves, and the reality of our new normal started setting in. In that week, I realized my decision to defer had much bigger implications. It meant avoiding an uncertain year of virtual school. It meant committing to a year of national service that would look very different than what I had anticipated. It meant that the third-largest city in the country had been reduced to the four walls of my bedroom.
When I received my updated Admissions decision a year later, the COVID-19 situation was still unclear, but my resolve to attend graduate school was firm. The pandemic had clarified a lot of things for me, including my desire to be at a mission-driven institution and to be in an environment where I could build my quantitative skills and technical expertise. I knew that, despite the uncertainty, I was ready to become a part of the Heller community. I knew that I didn’t want to delay the start of this journey any longer.