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Opinion: Why Stay in Evanston? Why Not.

Evanston Township High School alum and Northwestern junior Camielle Taylor reflects on staying in the city she loves and what it means to be a "KitCat."

Camielle Taylor, an  grad and junior at , decided to stay in Evanston during college for one reason: the community. The social policy and Spanish major works as an intern in ETHS' communications deaprtment, as a senior office assistant in Northwestern's Center for Student Involvement and as a campus tour guide. This essay was reprinted with permission from ETHS.

BY CAMIELLE TAYLOR

I am a KitCat. No, not the chocolate-covered wafer treat made by Nestle. But rather a KitCat: one who graduated from Evanston Township High School (ETHS), home of the Wildkits, who now is attending Northwestern University (NU), home of the Wildcats. Among the questions I often receive regarding being a KitCat, the main question asked is, “Why?”, “Why did you stay in…Evanston?”, “Why NU?” I respond simply, “The Community.”

Evanston is a vibrant community that offers a wealth of opportunity and variety to its residents: unmatched diversity, proximity and easy access to a major city, beautiful homes and parks, and top-notch schools, including one of the most highly esteemed universities in the nation. In fact, a student can attend all levels of schooling within a two-mile radius, as I have. While others have found a thrill in leaving the nest, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles to explore and learn in a new community, I have chosen another path – to explore what is already familiar to me from different angles.

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Evanston Township High School (ETHS) is the not-so-hidden gem of Evanston. With hundreds of classes and thousands of students, the excitement never ends. From 8:32am until 3:35pm on weekdays, the rooms and hallways of 1600 Dodge Avenue are brought to life by the students and faculty, and it is always a great day to be a Wildkit. ETHS’s sense of community is abundant from the orange and blue-brimmed hallways to Lazier Stadium where the varsity football, soccer and lacrosse teams play. Yet, to the average Northwestern student, ETHS is mammoth-sized, confusing, impersonal, and essentially another world. In regards to my high school experience, I remember someone once asked me if I felt as if I was lost in the masses. My response was, “What masses?” I suppose that since I know nothing other than a large high school, its size is normal to me. However, more importantly, I think the strong sense of community at ETHS masks its size.   

ETHS’s sense of community is like a puzzle. Every class, person, club and tradition holds its own unique shape and comprises a different part of the ETHS community. Without a single piece, the picture is not complete. Each student finds their niche at ETHS whether it is in the math/science area, athletics or the arts. There are also mini communities throughout the school, but ETHS has an amazing way of uniting people of different interests. Through several, school-wide events such as dances, fundraisers and pep rallies, the ETHS community is often unified, which allows students to physically see the community that they are a part of. 

In tandem with the extracurricular experience, the academic experience adds to the unity of the school. The classroom setting is where students form bonds with their peers and teachers, thus fostering a continued sense of community. The teachers, in particular, have a unique ability to strike the perfect balance between being a respected instructor and valuable advisor which is achieved by balancing the amount of independence and support a student is given. Students at ETHS are challenged effectively – tasks are presented by the teacher, the students are given to opportunity to attempt to find solutions on their own, and when they have found all that they could, the teacher steps in and assists the student with the completion of the task. 

Personally, I think this method of teaching is what led to my successful transition from ETHS to Northwestern. I was able to take the initiative to study on my own, always knowing that should I ever need help along the way, I could rely on my teachers. Furthermore, this independence shaped me into an even better student because I was able realize early how I learn and consequently study and work more effectively. When June 2009 came and I walked across the stage at graduation, I knew I was fully prepared and ready for the experience I would have at Northwestern. 

Despite my preconceived notions that Northwestern is a lonely place and a school for arrogant, egotistical people who are inattentive when crossing streets, I have found that it is quite the opposite and the perfect fit for me. Admittedly, I realized this later rather than sooner, but nonetheless, I am grateful that I did. Northwestern is unique – it is the perfect combination of a Big Ten state school and an Ivy League school of the East Coast – which is one of the influential characteristics that led me to choose NU. Access to a top-notch academic experience, free football games, and a gorgeous campus are opportunities that are hard to walk away from. Full and free access to home-cooked meals, my family, and my car are nice perks also. Additionally, I knew that in coming to NU, I would find a sense of community similar to what I found at ETHS. 

ETHS and Northwestern have similar senses of community in that, while both are relatively large schools that provide every student with a unique experience, the common experience of feeling connected to the institution is the foundation for the overall sense of community. Students love their experience at Northwestern for a variety of reasons. For me, finding that someone else is enjoying their experience at NU for reasons completely different than mine increases my appreciation for the university because I realize just how much the school has to offer to everyone. I believe that the most effective and honoring way to show appreciation for a community is to reinvest in it by way of community service. Because of this, I have dedicated much of my free time to serving different areas of my communities. 

The focus of my service is directly influenced by my experience – graduating from an excellent high school and enrolling in a top university. Therefore, minority student encouragement and advancement have become increasingly important to me because I realize that other minority students do not have access to or knowledge of the opportunities that I have been given. Serving as a mentor to two African-American ETHS seniors, I have worked to encourage and support them through their upperclassman years. I also intern in the Communications Office at ETHS where I work on a variety of projects to help maintain the sense of community at ETHS and in the city of Evanston. At Northwestern, I have volunteered my time in the Office of Admissions working with the Ambassadors program, which helps to encourage African-American students to apply to the university. I have also spoken on countless student panels and given speeches and tours to minority students who have visited NU, encouraging them to apply themselves to their studies, perform as best as they can, and consider NU along the way. Through these endeavors, I have been able to give back to all the communities that have played an integral part in my academic and developmental experience, which is an opportunity that few people have available to them.

As a result of my experiences living in Evanston, as an ETHS student and as a Northwestern student, my appreciation for all of the resources and blessings offered to me here has undeniably increased. The Evanston community at large embraces excellence, diversity, and its residents, both permanent and temporary. By providing a vibrant experience for people of all ages, anyone who has called Evanston home for any period of time will leave understanding what a community should be. Evanston, for me, has been a multi-tiered community – it is my hometown and my college town. While at times, I may be the driver that becomes angry with the inattentive Northwestern pedestrians in downtown Evanston, and at other times, I may be the inattentive Northwestern pedestrian, having the unique opportunity to play both roles is exciting, revealing and really enables me to take a step back and see Evanston, IL as the amazing place that it really is. So, when asked why I chose to stay in Evanston and why I love Evanston, I think one phrase sufficiently answers the question: “Why not?”

Richard Schulte June 05, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Actually, Evanston is unlike the real world-an insulated and isolated community of people who mostly think alike. The children of Evanston need to leave to see what other Americans think and do. Spending some time in Kansas or Texas might be a real eye-opener to someone who has only lived in Evanston. After living in Evanston for most of the last 29 years, I'd say that Evanston is the "home of small minds". A few months ago, I left for greener pastures-"redneck Florida", the home of the Naval Air Station at Pensacola (the Blue Angels) and Elgin Air Force base. It's nice to live in a community where our military men and women live and where American flags are flown proudly all over. Living with military personnel in uniform reminds you every day that "freedom is not free". You can't imagine how proud it makes me feel to be an American when I see the Blue Angels flying in tight formation along the tree tops. America is in good hands. Get out and see the real world young lady.
Laura Kubiak June 05, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Do you feel Evanston is the "home of small minds" because some minds do not agree with your mind? Do you need Blue Angels flying over head to make you feel like an American? I was not aware that by living in Evanston, we are not living in the real world. Is this an alternate reality? I feel proud to be an American when I hear that Camielle was educated in Evanston schools and chose to continue her education at Northwestern. I feel America is in good hands because of young people like you! Keep up the terrific work Camielle!
Dan June 05, 2012 at 03:26 PM
@Richard, Enjoy the air base. There sure are lots of tax dollars wrapped up in planes that serve no military purpose other than expensive recruiting. Cost of each F-18 is $21 million. For those that live in Evanston it is a unique experience, cherish it. No expensive air planes, but lots of parks, shore line, transit and diversity.
annie June 05, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Camielle, This a lovely article and thank you for sharing your good thoughts about being raised in Evanston, going to ETHS, currently working at ETHS, and attending Northwestern. Good luck to you!
John Brinkmann June 05, 2012 at 04:17 PM
very enjoyable read Camille---and all best wishes toward your studies at NU
Jim June 05, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Congrats, Camille. Well said positive expressions. Your mom and dad did a good job and you obviously have done a good job. Proud to be your neighbor!
Richard Schulte June 06, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Laura Kubiak: "Do you feel Evanston is the "home of small minds" because some minds do not agree with your mind?" No, I feel that Evanston is the "home of small minds" because few, if any people who live in Evanston agree with me. Evanston is the home of "group think". We are constantly told that "diversity is our strenth", but diversity of thought is unacceptable in Evanston. It might be good for this young lady to be exposed to something other than Evanston "group think" and it might be good for Evanston to seek out opinions other than the standard liberal opinions.
Richard Schulte June 06, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Diversity? There is no diversity of thought in Evanston-only standard progressive thought (i.e. nonsense). And those $21 million fighter aircraft and the young people who fly those aircraft allow those who live in Evanston to be able to freely express their opinions.

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