Why I Defied, Rather Than Deferred

By Nelia Perry ‘24

I was excited to start college before even entering high school.

I went on my first college visit when I was in seventh grade—okay, it was technically for my older brother, but bear with me. Watching my two older siblings go through the visiting and touring, essay writing, applying, deciding and eventually leaving phases of the journey to college I eagerly awaited my chance.

And it eventually came.

I loved the process: the chance to reflect on my high school experience, to think about who I really am, to envision myself in so many different settings—it was all so exhilarating. But what topped it all off was picturing myself on a college campus the next fall: walking from my decorated dorm room to the dining hall for a quick breakfast before heading to class, where I would bump into new friends and mentors before heading to practice or work, and then settling in for the night. Maybe I had a glorified image of what my first-year college experience would be like, but, nonetheless, I couldn’t wait!

When January rolled around, bringing with it COVID-19, I didn’t predict missing out on senior-year traditions or first-year college transitions. March, April, May, and June came and went, and none of them showed any hope of going to campus any time soon. In May, I realized that I needed to start thinking about deferring. Everyone around me was asking me my plans. It was like the “what do you want to study” or “where are you going to college?” questions had turned into “are you even going to college?” and “will you defer or defy?”[1]

Now, there wasn’t anything I was more excited about than starting college. I had folders on my computer of photos to print and hang on my walls and spreadsheets for planning my course schedule. So why did I eventually decide not to defer but to “defy”? When I thought back on why I was so excited for college, at its core it wasn’t because I was going to have the perfect little study nook set-up or because I’d finally be able to study on a quad. I was excited because I was going to be able to dive into content I’d always wanted to explore. Because I was going to meet people who loved learning as much as I did. Because I would have the coolest and most supportive professors around. I was excited for the Pomona experience, and experiences aren’t usually tangible. They aren’t the Frank dining hall brunch options (no matter how good the food is); they aren’t the perfectly trimmed lawns or the top-of-the-line microscopes. While those objects enhance experiences, they aren’t what define them. I decided that I could add my own tangible elements to enhance my experiences whether I was on a campus or in my bedroom. And, more importantly, I realized that if any school could create a valuable online experience, it would be Pomona—and that is exactly how it has been.

magnifying class with Pomona Genetics sticker
Magnifying glass sent to me for genetics class

Everyone is in a unique situation, and thus everyone has different needs, but, for me, I saw the value of being a pioneer this year. I imagined that professors would be even more supportive because they want to be accommodating, students would be more intentional about reaching out, and I could be more engaged in learning and growing. Learning online has not been easy. I could and probably will write a whole other post about the ins and outs of online learning, but to put it simply, it can be exhausting. BUT it is in the face of uncertainty and adversity that I find I can learn the most.

Nelia and her sister with donuts
Perry Brunch with homemade donuts!

This semester has been one of immense growth, and I’ve only just started. Not only am I learning new content, but I am learning more study skills than I could have imagined. I’m learning how to make time for myself and for my family; I’m learning how to find joy in the little things and remain optimistic yet critical. I am not having the first semester of college that I used to imagine, but I am learning that that is not a bad thing. I’ve replaced Frank Brunch with Perry Brunch (my family, that is), Marston Quad with a balcony chair, and top-of-the-line microscopes with a very small but sentimental magnifying class branded with a Genetics sticker. This semester has reminded me that connections, learning, and experiences are so much more important that the material parts of my life. This semester is full of experiences that will forever influence who I am and what I do, and for that I am grateful!