Sailing into freshman year

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Raz and his sister, Solvig Sayre, on an Eckerd boat.

For the past three years, The MVTimes has asked four recent Vineyard high school graduates to share their experiences during their first year after graduation. Our third correspondent is Raz Sayre, who is a freshman at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla.

I had never bought a one-way ticket before. It was crazy to think that the day had come when I would leave the place I had lived all my life, for a new chapter, and a new home. I was thrilled to be heading out toward uncharted waters, but my body suddenly ached to see Vineyard Haven Harbor — the place where I had grown up and learned how to sail — shrink on the horizon. It didn’t help that I left on one of those special windy mornings the first week of August.

The flight to St. Petersburg went smoothly, and I landed, grabbed my bags, and found a taxi. I had three huge pieces of luggage, and had hauled them a thousand miles that day. My bags were stripped to the essentials: My kitesurfing gear. Shorts. T shirts. It was Florida, for goodness sake. What more could I possibly need? As I sat in the taxi, I mapped out the journey from the airport, trying to grow accustomed to the roads that would be my home for the next four years. When I spotted signs that read “Eckerd College, Next Exit”, it began to become more and more of a reality. It was already pretty late, and everything that day had been a whirlwind. As only Raz could, I had completely overlooked the concept of bringing sheets down, so I rested my eyes on a barren dorm room mattress my first night.

My first semester, or heck, my first day at Eckerd confirmed why I chose to study there. My older sister Solvig had gone to Eckerd and loved it, and I had visited it when she was there. I hadn’t been back since. Eckerd is a lot like home, which I really like. It sits on its own little oasis away from the city, and is right next to the water. It has just under 2,000 kids, and a strong sense of community.

As a freshman you are required to go down a month before everyone else, and do what they call an “Autumn Term.” In this time you take one course, and in your free time do all the team-building orientation things typically crammed into a couple of days at other schools. In this time, once I got over the oppressive Florida humidity, and got the huge sun hat my mom sent me, I went out and met a lot of genuine, unique people who are now my closest friends. I imagined it would be intimidating once the upperclassmen arrived, but I found the opposite. I found a sense of tolerance and mutual respect for everyone in the community. The school embraces people displaying their inner spirit without reservation, with its unofficial motto “Keep Eckerd Weird.” The campus is also very eco-friendly. It has an active student-run recycling and composting program, and a bike-share program on campus to limit car use. Anyone can borrow yellow cruiser bikes to ride to class.

I really enjoy my classes at Eckerd, as they have allowed me to excel in the areas I am best at, while pointing out things I found I was completely in the dark about. I re-established my belief that I am good at dissecting texts to find inner meanings and elaborating upon these concepts. My classes have shown me more efficient ways to go about acquiring evidence for essays and presentations. I have learned a lot in what feels like such a short amount of time. Being at a small liberal arts college, I interact a lot with my professors, and plan on taking my academic mentor out on a sailboat. While I’m still undecided, my main focus has been political science. I have not taken many big standardized tests that require me to regurgitate facts onto a page. My average class size is fewer than 20 students, and most of my assessment has been via small mock trials, or class discussions of works. We present group projects, and write argumentative research papers, rather than listening to a professor lecture and filling out multiple-choice answers.

One of the main reasons I chose to go to Eckerd was to be a part of their varsity sailing team. They have been one of the top teams in the nation, and are shown a lot of support from the school. It has been an awesome experience sailing with them, as they practice at an incredibly high level, and I am constantly challenged and progressing. I was able to make rosters for two inter-sectional events this semester, which was really exciting to have accomplished as a freshman. The college sailing atmosphere is unique, as everyone knows one another, but are nonetheless very fierce competitors.