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Senior Column | Liyaan Maskati '21: Brick by brick

Standing on the threshold of graduation, the path ahead seems rife with uncertainty. In our years at Brown, we’ve spent our time building ourselves into a community that supports, challenges and encourages us. That’s a hard thing to let go of as we leave College Hill behind. 

Four years ago, I had perhaps never experienced a greater sense of ending and beginning than when I moved over 8,000 miles away from home, stepped onto Brown’s campus and entered an entirely new landscape. So much seemed foreign to me — right down to the perplexing use of Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. It was a turbulent mixture of partings and meetings; I catalogued legions of new names and faces even as I waved goodbye to my parents in the square of Keeney Quad. I was tense and excited and impossibly homesick all at once, so disoriented between looking back and desperately clinging to my childhood, but also being eager to charge forward. 

I can’t quite pinpoint the moment when Brown transformed from a foreign environment into a haven of sorts. It happened slowly — brick by brick, with each memory solidifying the structure, making Brown a home.

I can’t quite pinpoint the moment when Brown transformed from a foreign environment into a haven of sorts. It happened slowly — brick by brick, with each memory solidifying the structure, making Brown a home. Somewhere between long Ratty breakfasts that transitioned into lunch, movie nights, midnight snowball fights, 2 a.m. conversations about everything and nothing at all — the foundation of a strong community assembled. I remember walking back from the piano practice rooms late one rainy night. Even though the streets were fairly deserted, as I trudged back to my dorm room I felt a strong sense of security burgeoning within me. It was like a silent buzz that couldn’t be heard, only felt. And on that cold, rainy day, it made me feel warm inside. 

I’ll admit that (as in most of life) my time at Brown had its ups and downs and occasional plateaus. But in retrospect, the amalgam of these experiences solidified my feeling of belonging here. I spent numerous panicked hours waiting in line to seek help at TA hours. But these were also the moments when I made many close friends. I discovered I hated writing mathematical proofs and had no idea what I wanted to study. But being forced to take a step back and explore different fields led me to find my place in the CS department. I made spontaneous plans to go sledding on cardboard boxes, travel to Boston, and have bonfires on the beach. And while my focused, single-minded high school self would have cringed at my growing pile of homework, these moments were often when I felt I really belonged. By learning to seek help when I needed it, widen my horizons and be more spontaneous, I eventually became the architect of the safe haven around me.

But COVID-19 disrupted that haven for all of us. Packed off from studying abroad in Scotland and sent home abruptly, I was left floundering when the internship I’d worked so hard for was suddenly canceled. To my gratitude, that’s when Brown stepped in. Professors reached out to me and to peers with various opportunities — offering research positions, connecting students with companies, trying to reconstruct part of the harbor of safety the pandemic had tried to demolish. While students certainly faced an array of unique challenges, I like to think the home we’d built for ourselves on College Hill did not crumble away. Later that summer, I flew back to campus in the midst of so much inconstancy. And when I returned, the heavy uncertainty slightly dissipated. Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, I found warm solace back in the secure shelter that was College Hill. Of course, the past year has hardly been perfect. But that solace helped me navigate this somewhat apocalyptic period, bringing me to where I am today. 

It’s easy to feel ill-equipped as we step through the Van Wickle Gates and out into the real world. So much about leaving the comfortable territory of College Hill and entering a new, unfamiliar landscape is daunting: letting go of the networks and communities we’ve formed for ourselves; stepping out onto an unfamiliar street and not recognizing the faces we see. I’m sure the path ahead will bring homesickness and nostalgia with it. But as we prepare to venture into the future, I’m comforted in knowing that my years at Brown have given me the tools to construct new communities, new networks and eventually, build a new home. 


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