On July 6th 2014, I stepped off a train and into a new world that would change my life and eventually become my home. I was on a trip to Ireland with friends and had decided to stop in London for a few days because I was already over here so I might as well. While in London I decided to wake up early and take a Sunday morning train up to Oxford, the home of Hogwarts, Narnia, Middle Earth, and Wonderland. The home of the stories that had enthralled me as a child and provided my escape from the realities of growing up gay and Mormon in a family that took 4 long years to divorce.
I had previously applied and been rejected from Oxford for a program studying politics and the internet and so I felt an added need to see this place that had told me I wasn’t quite good enough yet. I walked past the old colleges that looked like castles and saw the meadows that inspired Lewis Carrol to write about Alice; I had a pint at the pub where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien discussed their writings for 39 years; I saw the dining hall that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Great Hall; I stopped by the office of the program that had rejected me; and after 6 hours in this quaint town I headed back down over the bridge towards the train station where I passed a large glass building emblazoned with “Said Business School”.
In my London hotel room that night I couldn’t fall asleep until I researched this “Said Business School”. I added it to my list of MBA programs I was looking at and 6 months later submitted my application and this time around I was admitted to join the University of Oxford. I was overjoyed but still had doubts. Was it the right program for me? Was it a good enough program? Was I good enough? Should I go to a UK school to study business? Why not Duke (my other option)?
As doubt filled my mind I was blessed to have a great friend who has known me for 7 years tell me that if I didn’t go to Oxford he’d personally fly out to meet me wherever I was and slap me in the face. That this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and if I didn’t take it I was stupid and didn’t deserve to have gotten in in the first place. I will always be thankful to this friend because Oxford has changed my life in a dozen ways.
I experienced true history in a way that you almost can’t in America (especially the West). I had my eyes truly opened to philosophy and the great expanse of time that humanity has been trying to solve The Big Questions. I met some of the most amazing and brilliant people of my generation. I debated in a debating society that has existed for longer than my religion. I sat under a tree planted before the war of 1812. I learned about finance and to look at more than the niche areas of business I’d been trained to. I met friends for life whom I know I can call when things turn to shit or with whom I will celebrate alongside when they achieve something amazing without feeling jealous of their accomplishments. I met future politicians and researchers who will help usher in the next era of technological advancement.
Yesterday I formally graduated from an institution that has been teaching students since 1231. That is 300 years before the Aztec empire was founded; 200 years before the printing press was created. I’m graduating as a member of Lincoln College founded 1427, 65 years before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World for a newly united Spain and almost 350 years before America declared herself free making my college walls almost 2.5 times older than my country and 21 times older than I am.
As I sat inside the Sheldonian theater – a theater that became an architectural model for over a century – listening to a service in Latin that has been given for almost 800 years I feel the ties of humanity binding me to the past. I hear a whisper of an echo of a plea urging me to “Carpe” to “Carpe Diem” to use the great gift of an Oxford education and all the privilege that comes with it to do good in the world. All of us have been born into an unfair world. Some have it unfair at the worst end of the spectrum. I have been blessed to ascend above my station in life and reach an even more unfair position and I have a duty to use that to help others. To pay it forward to those who cannot yet reach the heights I have seen.
I don’t yet know what form that payment will take but I know that it is my Northstar guiding my actions. For I cannot sit here as one who was given a chance to be a student at Oxford and not pay in all I can to help others.
Today I am on the bus back to Heathrow marking the official “end” of my Oxford Journey that began in July 2014 when I first stepped off that train and visited this town of “dreaming spires” for the first time. Today also marks the beginning of a life touched by her ancient walls and guided by her timeless wisdom. Today is when I can truly say “I’m from Oxford.”