Mom moved with a purpose, choosing our apartment on Edwards Street specifically for my education. The following autumn I started kindergarten at the local public school, Worthington Hooker, where I met kids from the East Rock neighborhood, France, and Nigeria, many of whom were children whose parents studied or taught at Yale. Years later I learned the implications of ‘diversity;’ until then the cultural and socioeconomic tapestries were just natural parts of our classroom. Even as an adopted Chinese child of non-Yale-affiliates, I could not have felt more at home.
I graduated from middle school in 2009 and went on to enroll at both Wilbur Cross High School and the Educational Center for the Arts. In many ways, life stayed the same: I kept up with my violin lessons and assisted with the ‘instrument petting zoos’ at the Neighborhood Music School, continued to volunteer for the Peabody Museum’s public education events, and wore a permanent path down Orange Street. I spent my mornings taking classes at Cross and afternoons studying composition and performance with the Music Department at ECA.
But as the year progressed, I came to believe that I could do more with my community — both in New Haven and in the classroom — were I to attend Cross full-time. It was tough to leave my friends and teachers at ECA, but I knew that the choice was right for me. In the years following, I spent lunch periods with my math teachers and evenings volunteering with New Haven Reads, forgoing the high school social scene for long hours practicing violin. I knew I wasn’t cool, but I was content.
Fast-forward a few years to the summer before my senior year of high school, when it was equally plausible that I would be either knee-deep in a salt marsh with my Peabody summer campers or poring over college admission guidebooks. I was very anxious about the start of my final year at Cross, and even more so about the years following. While my parents had been (and are, to this day) incredibly involved in my education, they were also unfamiliar with the byzantine system of entrance exams, supplemental essays, and résumé-curation. But I was fortunate enough to have gained the support of multiple teachers and mentors around New Haven — from my Cross teachers to music instructors to a handful of Yale students — who supplemented my family’s support.
In April 2013, I found myself strutting around Old Campus as a newly-enrolled ‘pre-frosh,’ an overzealous high school senior who had accepted an invitation to join Yale’s undergraduate body. I tried my best not to look like a confused newcomer, preferring to stick with the ‘townies’ who knew their way around downtown. It was exhilarating to be part of a school that would eventually allow me to take classes in Russian literature and democratization theory, work with professors on issues of criminal justice, and literally send me around the world — back to China, even. I took full advantage of the opportunities to explore my personal identity and serve my peers by working with the Asian American Cultural Center, the Yale Alumni Magazine and the Yale International Visiting Students Program. I stayed in close touch with the other Promise Scholars by serving as one of the founding Promise Ambassador in my sophomore year and proudly telling anyone who asked that, yes, this city has always been my home.
Having recently graduated from college, I now work with the Yale Program on Financial Stability’s New Bagehot Project, an online platform for the collection, analysis, and publication of literature on systemic risk, with particular focus on the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. Together with a team of seven other Research Associates, I am chiefly responsible for researching and writing case studies on specific interventions implemented by federal governments in response.
Academics aside, I now live closer to my childhood apartment than I did while an undergrad, a fact that delights my parents and at times makes me wonder whether I’ll ever leave the neighborhood. And although I often feel the need to get out and explore, I have no plans to stay away for long.
Lily Engbith — a 2017 graduate of Yale University — is a Research Associate in the Yale Program on Financial Stability at the university’s School of Management.