Being from the area, was Roanoke College always on your radar?
I went to Patrick Henry High School, so I’ve been here my whole life. I didn’t really know that much about Roanoke. I had heard of it, and my dad reminded me that we’d come to an event when Martin Luther King III was there and had spent time there as a kid, but truly it wasn’t on my radar until sophomore year when my mom was like, “We have to start looking at colleges.” I was like, “Mom, I’m just trying to be cool in high school. Why am I visiting colleges as a sophomore? I have so much time.” She said, “I just need you to see what college is like. We’re going to go to Roanoke. It’s only 15 minutes away.” I remember having a really good tour, but like I said, I was just not in the mindset to think about colleges and that kind of thing. I was like, “That was a good first impression. I’ll wait until junior year when it’s kind of getting more down to where you really want to go.”
Junior year is when the college search went into full blast. I remember touring Roanoke probably once that year and twice senior year for Scholar’s Day competition, prospective students open house. I remember really liking it but also at the same time not wanting to let myself fall in love with it because this is 20 minutes away. Why would I go to school here? My friends were ready to go off to really big schools like UVA, Virginia Tech, JMU, all those really big-name schools. I was like, “I want to go away too.”
I remember kind of being in a place where I really liked Mary Washington and Davidson and all these schools that were very similar to Roanoke and slightly bigger. But even touring those places, I kept being like, “Oh, Roanoke has this. I remember Roanoke has that.” So I think my parents knew a little bit before I did, but it took me until April of senior year to be like, “I think Roanoke’s going to be my home.”
What have you enjoyed about it?
I think just the amount of opportunities. It truly is one of the most beautiful things about our college, that no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, there are always so many opportunities whether you seek them out yourself or someone is kind of putting it in your face saying, “Hey, I think you’d be perfect for this.”
I think also in my experience, so many of my opportunities came so early on. In my first few months of being at Roanoke, I had already joined SGA on the path to becoming secretary in my second semester as a freshman and then being SGA president as a sophomore into my junior year was insane. I went on my first flight ever, to Ghana, my freshman year.
I told my mom, “May Term’s coming up and I want to go to Ghana,” and she said, “Don’t you want to go to London or Paris?” I was like, “Well, I hope one day I have enough money to fly myself there, but I’m not going to take my family on family vacation to Ghana. When else am I going to get a chance to go here in my time in college or just in my life?” I remember spending a month or two trying to convince her to let me go, and finally convincing her and my dad and that being such a transformative experience to get to experience that as a freshman.
Sophomore year was definitely a catapult of my experiences at Roanoke and figuring out who I was and going on that track.
And then of course, the community. This is the best community to be a part of. It’s not always rainbows and sunshine every day like I’d hope it to be, and it’s a place where even when there are pouty days or you feel challenged by people that you also feel encouraged at the same time, and so supported. I think I took that for granted a lot in my first couple years at Roanoke.
“I’m sure you’re thinking, “This is my time to flee the nest.” But you get to do that no matter if you’re 20 minutes away or 12 hours away. ”
Olivia Kitt '20
Have you talked with friends who went to those larger schools and compared your experience?
I’ve had three friends I was close with in high school actually transfer to Roanoke who went to really large schools from Radford and LSU and UVA. It was really fascinating just hearing their stories from them now getting the Roanoke experience, what we kind of live for, that one-on-one connection with your professors.
I remember one of my friends was a stellar student in high school and went off to this really big school and now she’s at Roanoke. She said one of the things was, she went through a really hard time last year and her professor was like, “I’m not your therapist. I can’t help you.” I was like, “Whoa. That would never happen (at Roanoke). My professor would never say that.” The way our professors care about us, it’s not just on an academic level. They don’t care just about what paper you turn in, but they’re also looking at you as a human being and they care about what’s happening in your life outside of it. I can’t even explain to you how many times I’ve gone into my professors’ office and cried or told them just about my day, that kind of thing.
Also, the academic rigor of Roanoke. I think a lot of people think that because we go to a small school that we aren’t as rigorous as maybe some of these bigger-name schools. I was telling some of my friends who go to a bigger school, “I have to write this 15-page paper and do all these research things,” and they were like, “What? We don’t do that.” I was like, “What do you mean? I’m doing that, like, sophomore year in my comparative politics class.” They’re out here just taking their tests and quizzes. That’s not to say that their classes aren’t just as hard, but it’s a different rigor that they didn’t expect from a school my size and I feel at par with them.
Also, just the experience of seeing my upperclassmen friends who have graduated and are now at these really big, top-name schools. To see how prepared they are, and for them to hear their counterparts say, “My school did not prepare me for this at all.” I think it’s so fascinating.
If you were to speak to high school students in the Roanoke area, what would be your sales pitch to come to Roanoke?
I would say, keep an open mind. I recognize that this is your hometown and you’ve spent 18 years here. I’m sure you’re thinking, “This is my time to flee the nest.” But you get to do that no matter if you’re 20 minutes away or 12 hours away.
One of the beauties of Roanoke is you get to learn your hometown all over again. For me, I’ve been to the (Mill Mountain) Star more in these past four years than I’d ever been my whole life. The Parkway has become the college hangout, and the Star. I’d truly never found it that fascinating before. It’s been really fun to make new memories at places I grew up going with my friends here or actually finding out about new places in the area.
It’s a place that you can make your new home. You can still have that independence that you crave and you can also still spend time away from it. With the amount of opportunities that Roanoke has, you can go abroad, you can do a D.C. semester, all these kinds of things. So if you are craving to leave Roanoke, you have that opportunity. What I also love, too, is the people you go to school with are not a bunch of Virginians. It’s not a suitcase campus. It truly is a very diverse campus as far as where people are from. Most of my friends are from the NE area or from abroad. It’s been a fun experience to be able to visit them on every single summer break, and travel to their hometowns and see where they’re from.