Thank you, CWRU

TJ Disabato, Staff Writer

When I first drove through University Circle in April 2019, I was frantically trying to find a place where I could envision myself growing outside of the close roots of semi-rural Pennsylvania farmland. I never went on an official tour here, and despite now being a tour guide, I feel that the unofficial stroll I took was more than enough to make up my mind. As if the serenity of Wade Lagoon and the Cultural Gardens, as well as the gluttonous daydreams of Little Italy were not enough, my choice was further solidified while eating at a now-closed Melt in University Heights, now occupied by The Haunted House Restaurant.

In the past four years, the community I have formed here has helped me grow in ways that I would have never thought previously possible as an overly enthusiastic 18-year-old. My first year at Case Western Reserve University was rough, and I mean rough. After considering transferring several times, I viewed the two week stay-at-home order during spring break to be the opportunity I needed to gather myself and my thoughts. Two weeks soon turned into 11 months and I reached an all-time low. At this point, I was back in Pennsylvania farmland and I was struggling with my coursework, my relationships with all my close family members, and my own identity. After turning to every person available to me, I felt entirely hopeless, and knew that I had few other options than to wait it out.

I returned to campus in spring 2021. Despite not having a single class in-person, I knew that it would be best to return to Cleveland, even with living on Southside being comparable to a barren wasteland at the time. However, the end of my second year marked a turning point, where possibilities seemed to be opening up to me. I soon joined Phi Delta Epsilon to pursue my passion for medicine and the biological sciences. More important than shaping those goals, the group exposed me to people who turned into some of the greatest friends, and many of whom I continue to rely on. I was also welcomed to conduct research in the laboratory of Dr. Zigmond in the Department of Neurosciences as a summer volunteer. It was at this time that I made a dedication to myself to make my living habits better. I started working out, eating healthier, forming better friendships, opening up to people and being more vulnerable.

When I came out in fall 2021, it was part of that same commitment to doing things for myself. I couldn’t let awkward silence follow me into adulthood, and I certainly wasn’t going to let anyone else live my life for me. Funnily enough, I was most worried about people treating me differently, and ended up being most disappointed when I was treated exactly the same. I thought that at this point, all of my problems would be solved, including familial strife and strained friendships. I realized that any single action cannot resolve all your conflicts, and after slowly confiding with family over time, I am still learning to love them and myself. At this point, my friend group seemed to be solidified. Between the friends I met through Phi Delta Epsilon, writing for The Observer and giving tours for the Office of Undergraduate Admission, I felt lucky to be surrounded by such incredible people. I could not have done it without them.

Over the last year, I took a huge step in my journey with self-confidence, while also finding a creative outlet, along with yet another family who I cherish deeply. While growing up, I envied my favorite Saturday Night Live cast members. Being able to impersonate Bill Hader’s Stefon character to my mom, or performing Dana Carvey’s “Chopping Broccoli” song to my friends at my eighth grade lunch table felt like the only way I could express myself. I always used humor as a coping mechanism, a self-defense strategy, a deterrent for opening up and, above all, a way to express myself. When I auditioned for CWRU’s improv troupe, IMPROVment, I went in with no expectations, and no expected negative feelings if I didn’t get in. I knew I could make myself laugh, and to me that was always the most important thing.

Fortunately, I was welcomed with open arms to join the troupe, and it has been an experience quite unlike any other. It has been a creative outlet that I was desperately seeking, but also one that continues to challenge me. It has made me better at interacting with others, and it has made me understand my personal role in a way that I never could have envisioned during my previous existence as a vagabond experiencing my own life through a third-person perspective. I have made some of the strongest connections with people, who not only helped me behave around others, but also taught me the importance of letting go and having fun. As someone who tries to see the lighter side of every situation, I still have problems taking things too seriously, and forgetting that every interaction I have had while attending CWRU has been nothing short of a blessing.

I first started writing for The Observer after interacting with then-executive editor Matt Hooke at the student activities fair in fall 2019. I was eager to write about baseball and music, and ended up taking on the role of playlists, as well as reviews of TV shows, movies and albums. Over the last four years, I have been fortunate enough to have an outlet to share things I love with people, in hopes that maybe just one person might be turned on to a song or show. From local drag shows, to Steely Dan, Lil Nas X and Yo La Tengo, to “King of the Hill,” “The Sopranos,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” I never wanted to pigeonhole myself, or what the campus community was reading. Perhaps this notion was lost when making playlists of music that seemed to mostly fall under the category of dad rock. However, in addition to sharing my interests, I always just wanted to have fun, and if even just one person shared the joy I felt in hearing a song or watching a TV show, I knew that I made some impact during my time here. In keeping with the theme of sharing joy and self-expression, I want to share a few of my favorite songs that helped me get through my time here, and as a way to thank CWRU, everyone and everything that has made my journey here so special. 

  1. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – Tears for Fears
  2. “Lazy Line Painter Jane” – Belle & Sebastian 
  3. “In the Kingdom” – Mazzy Star
  4. “Songbird” – Fleetwood Mac
  5. “Uncertain Smile” – The The
  6. “Road to Nowhere” – Talking Heads
  7. “Someday, Someway” – Marshall Crenshaw
  8. “Nightswimming” – R.E.M.
  9. “My Old School” – Steely Dan
  10. “Somewhere Only We Know” – Keane 
  11. “My Little Corner of the World” – Yo La Tengo
  12. “Jungleland” – Bruce Springsteen