I like to begin this story with how I got to Rutgers to eventually become the dedicated young alumna that I am today.
My path to Rutgers was incredibly unconventional. I hail from Sussex County, New Jersey a land that is, unfortunately, rather hostile to its own state university. Growing up, I witnessed flags flying for schools like UConn, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. A Block R was a rare sight indeed. When I got to the point in high school where I started looking at colleges I didn’t even look at Rutgers. I genuinely believed it to be an inferior back up school with no prestige or worth. I heard various nicknames for Rutgers and that further influenced my decision to not give even its website a basic glance. I truly mean it when I say that I did not even slightly consider Rutgers in my list of schools to apply to. As a New Jerseyan the allure of getting out of this small state was also a strong factor for me. I applied to eight schools, none of which were in New Jersey. Big state schools like UMass, Delaware, Penn State (GASP), and a few regional private schools. I got accepted to all, but then a harsh reality that most families are familiar with hit. I couldn’t afford any of them! I’ll never forget the depressive state I entered at this realization. I had gotten into my number one school, Delaware, and couldn’t even go? No! It wasn’t going to happen. I was prepared to take on an irresponsible load of debt and then both my mom and guidance counselor urged me to look at Rutgers. “No way,” was my reaction to this ridiculous suggestion for two weeks. Two weeks in early April as the time where most students would be nearing a school decision approached. Finally, after swallowing my pride I took a look at Rutgers’ website. After three minutes of perusing the site, I felt like this:
I had no idea that Rutgers was a respected state university system, that there was a major more perfect for me than any of the other school’s I applied to, and that it was, simply put, a great school. Oh the shame. I promptly scheduled a visit to go to the Open House in late April 2012. There I met Tim Smith, the now retired band director which would lead to me joining the Rutgers Marching Band (marching band was an activity that I would be completely new to, but would fall in love with). The next weekend I was invited to the Spring Game where high school students interested in joining the band have the opportunity to see what a game day in the Marching Scarlet Knights is like. I called Rutgers in April to ask if I could still apply even though I was months passed the deadline. Luckily for me, they would still accept me because various schools still had room for students. I immediately applied and scheduled a bus and campus tour through the Visitor’s Center a few days later. On that tour I received an email notification that I was accepted to all the schools I applied for at Rutgers and will never forget the genuine excitement the Scarlet Ambassadors had for me when I told them, “I’ve been accepted to Rutgers!” I accepted the offer to the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences over Arts and Sciences and Engineering, and probably became one of the latest Scarlet Knights of the Class of 2016. My RUID number is really high compared to those of my peers because of how late I applied. My noticing Rutgers, visits and all, and deciding to attend happened within a month. Within that month, my applying and being accepted happened within five days. A turbulent month it was indeed. I became an Orientation Leader for one summer and had a bunch of students who were clearly not thrilled about attending Rutgers. I told them this, “at least Rutgers was on your list. It wasn’t on mine and look at how much I love it now?” Their views changed quickly for the better.
Fast forward five years later and looking back, I seriously had the greatest undergraduate experience ever. Rutgers was perfectly far enough from home that I felt independent, but close enough for me to get home easily, and for my family to see me perform at football games, concerts, and just be able to come visit. I had wonderful professors, fulfilling on-campus jobs, amazing extracurriculars, developed eternal memories, forged lifelong friendships, and would not trade my Rutgers experience for the world. Some people tell me, “well, you would have experienced that anywhere you went.” I disagree. Rutgers-New Brunswick has a character to it like no other school. I immediately felt home the first time I visited Rutgers and the same can’t be said for any of the many schools I have visited. The unique set up of the New Brunswick campus with its multi-campus, dual-city layout, the huge bus system, the food, the location, and even the infamous aspects of RU Screw all work together to make Rutgers a positively special place. Also, as someone currently going to grad school at another big state university (Virginia Tech), I can see key differences in the two and areas in which Rutgers is indisputably superior (I’ll give details to those who ask in the comments). I miss everything about my Alma Mater, even things I whined about while I was there. My college experience was rich and Rutgers Football and Rutgers Athletics are representatives of my college experience. These teams bear the Rutgers name, exhibit the Rutgers brand, and are made up of Rutgers students. A college athletic team is not a separate entity from the school. It represents the school in one of the many ways a school can be represented. I technically feel the same way about the Rutgers 250 Tomato, but the former is more fun ;)
I owe being in the marching band to why I am a true fan of Rutgers Football. I performed at every home game between the 2012 and 2015 seasons with various away games interspersed in these four seasons. I was not a major football fan before I was “forced” to watch the games in between our songs and shows. What started as “Marching band days” for me gradually transformed into full on GAME DAYS and now I am obsessed with our team in Scarlet, which I’m sure those who follow my content on Off Tackle Empire can attest to. I was right there with the team in our amazing, nine win 2012 season and our not so great 2015. I was there for our comfortable win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl and for our overtime heartbreaker loss against Virginia Tech (this game is why I will never love the Hokies). I saw when Gary Nova was SuperNova and when Leonte Carroo made catches that defied the laws of physics. I’ve seen Janarion Grant glide through players and Darius Hamilton truck his way through offenses. I was also there to see the results of a gutted secondary... it wasn’t pretty. I was there for some of the toughest home losses in recent history— Penn State in 2014, Washington State in 2015, and Maryland in 2015... my senior day. These are games that bring visceral pain when I think back to them. But I was also AT Indiana where we came back by 25 points to spoil their Homecoming. I was there when we beat Michigan for our first Big Ten win. I love our team and two rough years, or even 20, 200, or 2000 would never be enough to sway me from loving my team.
The thing is, I’m loyal to Rutgers Football because of my experience and love for Rutgers University. I have hard time separating Rutgers academic achievements with Rutgers athletic achievements. They are one in the same to me— Rutgers achievements. The team doesn’t have to “win” for me to feel great about being a Rutgers fan because Rutgers is always winning in my eyes. Wins by our alumni, our lacrosse team, our faculty’s research, our soccer team, our contribution to the arts, our track stars, in how we serve New Jersey, among so many other wins by aspects and products of Rutgers provide eternal pride fuel. And lest I forget to mention our history with our school being founded in 1766 and playing in the first collegiate football game in 1869. That latter point alone makes it so Rutgers, the “Birthplace of College Football,” is always winning. When our major teams like football and basketball do actually win, it feels great of course, and I am 100% honest when I say that I jumped around and screamed for joy in my Blacksburg apartment a few times this past football and basketball season. However, when they don’t win... It really doesn’t matter. I’m still a Rutgers Alumna and still a fan of the teams that represent the best school in the world. I’m with Rutgers forever.
Rutgers 2016 Alumna, part of the 250th graduating class.
I still get butterflies in my stomach when I drive past the stadium or see the campus lightpost banners.