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Donate A roommate taught me to see beyond differences


When I first made my way into my dorm room at the start of my freshman year, I saw four lofted beds, and I began to get worried.

There’s no way I could have three roommates, yet there were four names on the door, and mine was one. Later, I learned that the university had run out of dorm rooms and put the overflow – including me – into what had once been student lounges.

I’d heard stories about roommate problems. How would four of us ever get along?

So as I sat back, anxiously waiting for each roommate to walk in, I made of game of finding a few words to describe each guy who came through the door. I’m medium height, athletic, African American and outgoing.

The first roommate arrived: Tall, white, charismatic and outgoing. In came the second: Short, stocky, white and sociable.

Late that afternoon, our final roommate showed up. Tom was tall, white, quiet and serious. He said little more than hello and spent the evening hanging up his ROTC uniforms. He wore a black sci-fi T-shirt, jeans that actually fit him and a hat with flames on the sides.

He was definitely the type of guy I didn’t hang out with in high school: Quiet, neat, extremely smart, gung-ho about the military.

When I thought about the people who were rooming with their friends from high school, I was extremely jealous. Being able to choose someone you know already eliminates the anxiety of not knowing what your roommate will be like. It makes socializing easy.

To my surprise, I soon learned that three of the guys in my room had a big thing in common: We were athletes for St. Thomas — one in swimming, the other in cross country and me in football.

Yet it seemed like whenever I found commonalities, Tom was left out. He kept to himself and stayed up late watching Japanese and Chinese cartoons.

Then one day when I was watching television with another roommate, I heard Tom say, “Dragonball.” Not many people know this, but I’m a huge fan of the anime cartoon Dragonball. I turned around and asked him what he knew about Dragonball.

“Everything,” he said.

We sat and talked for hours that day about what cartoons we liked. It turns out that we grew up watching the same exact things as kids. It definitely was one of those moments where you ask yourself, “Did we just become friends?” The answer was “Yup.”

The next day, I was planning on borrowing a friend’s iPod to walk to class with, but he was gone. Hesitantly, I asked Tom if I could borrow his, figuring even if he said yes, he would not have the kind of music I listened to.

When I turned on Tom’s Ipod, I was surprised to see artists like Jay Z, Beyonce, The Jackson 5, The Commodores and so much more.

Before meeting Tom, I used to take pride that I never judged people from the way they look. Tom taught me that I have a lot more to learn before that’s true.

After a semester at St. Thomas, Tom decided to go into the service. Another of my roommates moved out, so it became just me and one other roommate, who will be my roommate next year.

As I look at the students who paired up with high school friends, I see the same silly antics as in high school. Too many people segregate themselves by making cliques and groups in order to feel comfortable in college, a place where you’re asked to embrace change.

There are so many people here from different cities, states, even countries. If you don’t open yourself to those new people and experiences, you’re only limiting yourself. Tom opened my eyes to the experiences I could have with other people walking on campus.

I’m never going to get to know everyone on campus, but because of this experience I definitely take the time to get to know people before I judge them.

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