We have many experience which immensely shapes us and our beliefs. For me the first place to create a significant impact was St. Stephen’s College, Delhi where I did my bachelor studies. Here’s an appreciation post I wrote during my master studies a few years ago for a college blog. Since, I can’t find it anywhere I thought of keeping it here.

Hi, I am a masters student of Physics in the Bonn-Cologne Graduate School of Physics and Astronomy (BCGS), Germany and an ex-student of the Physics department of the St. Stephen’s college, Delhi. I was asked to share how the experience of the life at St. Stephen’s was for me. I am someone who doesn’t know how to wrap memories into beautiful expressions. Still I will try as much as I possibly can in expressing the unforgettable three years of my life. I belong to an unknown small town of Orissa called Bargarh. It all started when I finished my class 12th exams and was battling with the social pressure of joining a medical/ engineering college. I always wanted to do pure sciences. I was looking for reputed institutes in India for a bachelors in physics. And Google told me that St. Stephen’s was the best ranked college in Natural Sciences. I called up my sister in Delhi and asked about it. Her over-enthusiastic reply made me think “I could give it a try!” (I never though such a casual decision would change my life). So I filled up its application online along with a couple of more colleges.

Then came the cutoffs and I made it into the interview list (although there is a whole nother story of how I narrowly missed the interviews!). The day of the interview was the first day I stepped into the college campus, a random guy from a random place aspiring to get a seat in the college of his first choice. Amidst all the suspense of making it to the list, the campus managed to get into my head. Well maintained grass “courts” and abundant greenery decorating an equally beautiful structure of bricks and stones. I had never seen green and red look so beautiful together before! But I knew it was only half the job done. I still had to face an interview panel about which I had zero idea and I had no contact with anyone from the college to get an overview of what it was gonna be like. I still believed that if I knew enough physics and keep myself relaxed through the interview I could easily get through. So here I was, amongst a group of about 20 odd students, having a mixed feeling of excitement and nervousness. Excitement of the fact that I would be interacting with some really good professors and gain a nice experience and nervousness of screwing up the interview. But the former overwhelmed the latter somehow. I was one of the last students. People kept going in and coming out. Some smiling, some totally shaken in tears. Everyone around me was having a nervous breakdown and it was getting into my nerves too. Finally came my turn and I went in.There were five professors. They started straightaway with simple physics questions and slowly kept raising the bar with questions which a high school pass-out might find difficult to answer. Fortunately, I could answer most of them easily. Then it became much more comfortable, they asked me about my family and other non-physics stuff. I guess it all took about thirty minutes. I opened the door and as I was about to leave, I heard one of the panelists, whom I went on to admire a lot after I joined college, say “Khub bhalo korechho tumi”, which translates to “you have done well”. I knew then, there was no turning back and I was finally gonna be a Stephanian!

The rest was a fabulous journey. The lack of my vocabulary skills, although I know what snobbish means, might make it sound ordinary, but trust me, it was an extraordinary experience. My classmates were all really smart and motivated people trying to make a mark in the world of physics. Suddenly my surroundings changed from a bunch of elders trying to shove me into the engineering fiasco (Yes, you heard me right! That’s what I think it is.) to a group of enthusiastic students and faculty encouraging each other to excel in whatever they found interesting. There were so many societies in college that I could not decide which ones to join and which to leave. But I had to be careful if I wanted to strike a balance between societies, which would help me build a personality by improving my social skills, and studies which was gonna shape my future. I joined the Music Society, the Social Service League and obviously, the Physics Society. Although music was a greater passion, I always enjoyed doing social work. After a couple of months I was totally integrated into this new community that was young and dynamic and full of positive competition.

Then, there was a wonderful department of great professors who were nothing short of inspirations for everyone. They always inspired (sometimes scared) students to work hard and enjoy it at the same time. It was in the college when I first saw that the teachers were enjoying what they were teaching and that made learning much more fun. We were encouraged by them and other seniors to apply for summer projects (I had no idea what they were before I stepped onto college!). Thanks to a nice recommendation letter, I got to do a very interesting summer project in the National Center for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA-TIFR) Pune. I also worked one winter in the Bose Institute, Kolkata. Interacting with students from other places made me realize that I was indeed very lucky to have such a exceptional bunch of teachers all at one single place while other places hardly even had one or two. While I was busy having a good time in the world of physics, there were others around me, each with an equally interesting story, if not more, of how they were living their own version of St. Stephen’s. Academics was just another part of the aspect of my version, as was Music. College gave me an opportunity to rediscover the hobby that had somehow got lost under the pressure of higher classes in school, and to refine my skills as a singer. Faced with any stress or challenge, singing could give me a relief that nothing else ever could. As a member of Music Society, I performed on many occasions and got the privilege to contribute to the culture that St. Stephens is. Apart from this, teaching kids in Evening Classes and occasionally playing sports would complete my day and give me the satisfaction to have lived another day during the best phase of my life.

I could not stress it enough, but St. Stephen’s changed me from an extremely shy boy from a small town to a really matured and smart person who could take on the world on his own. And its not just me, all my friends have made an equally successful life after college so far. Three students from my class including me got call letters from Cambridge University. Two of them went on and joined Cambridge. Two of my other classmates and I chose BCGS to do our masters degree. Another friend of mine went to Amsterdam via an Erasmus Scholarship. Some joined IISc and IITs after getting enviable ranks in IIT-JAM. Others chose careers totally different from Physics, like fashion or law. A few got hired by MNCs with six digit salaries! St. Stephen’s did a remarkable job in shaping the lives of about a thousand students and it continues doing so every single year. I wish there were at least a hundred more colleges like this in this country of billions so that more people like me could get a good education and a fair shot at life.