Larger Landscapes

Terrence O'Brien '10

I think there is a predictable developmental bridge that shapes all high school students entering the larger landscapes of college living and life. Whether it is at St. Lawrence or some other setting in higher education, the first-year collegian’s “small world” of high school is soon seen as just a slice of a much bigger pie.

I was born in El Salvador during the country’s civil war, adopted before age 4, and spun (which in hindsight seems to be a life pattern) into a larger and vastly different world. Entry into a new social and cultural universe happened again when as a high school junior I attended Wilbraham and Monson Academy in Massachusetts, and again in my coming to SLU. After college, my return to El Salvador for a year and my service in the Peace Corps in Indonesia for 27 months continued my life of shifting from one world to another. Now, as I re-create myself in South Carolina as an employee of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, I am at it again.

I look back at my time at Wilbraham and Monson and note the emphasis on academic achievement and community-building of a diverse population of teenagers still very much in need of surrogate parenting. I can’t help but wince when I look at the enormousness of that challenge for WMA faculty and staff.

SLU was the WMA experience with far less surrogate parenting and a notion of community that expanded well beyond the geography of a campus, reaching across a planet full of diverse languages, cultures, economies, religions and political ideologies. The message of global community and global responsibility was as evident in my St. Lawrence Global Studies classes as it was if one took the time to read posters at the student union, or even the alumni magazine.

To say my life of changes at times felt fragmented would be an understatement. As is the case for most who by life’s lottery were born into a civil war society, I learned early to be a good observer. Ever since, I’ve been a good observer, if not always a good listener. (This created some complications when I was a student).

What I observed at St Lawrence is what I carry with me: faculty commitment; a supportive and responsive community when things weren’t going well; a prevailing vision that permeated the classrooms and Sandy MacAllaster Field, where I spent a great deal of time as a member of the men’s soccer team.

What I observed at SLU was a vision cloaked in the belief that we can do it, we can make a difference, if we work together.

The source of hope in this world is vision. St. Lawrence University has shared with me the gift of sight. I will do my best to pass it on.

We welcome your submissions for "FIrst-Person." They should be no more than 500 words and should connect with an aspect of your lifelong experience with St. Lawrence University. For consideration, please email