My Story

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Me at the Mayflower Bed and Breakfast

This is me. Well, it’s not me anymore, but it was. And although there may be many places to begin this story, this seems as good as one as any. At the time this picture was taken I had recently dropped out of school, was physically unhealthy, and suffered from severe depression. But all this was about to change, and the location of the picture had quite a lot to do with this.

Just before the picture was taken, a very dear friend had approached me at our place of work and told me of his upcoming trip to England with his wife. She was going for business and would be there a month, and he would be leaving Toronto to join her for the last two weeks of her trip. My initial reaction was one of intense jealousy. For as long as I can remember I have been immensely interested……. alright, obsessed, with British history. I would consume everything I could – music, literature, architecture, even crime stories from all eras of its history. However, actually going to England was something that had always seemed out of reach. I was living in an expensive apartment downtown. I had never left the continent. I was just a poor student (well, ex-student). Flying across the Atlantic was the last thing I saw myself doing. Then, this friend said that he would like for me to join him.

A little while later I was on a plane. We landed in Heathrow and had to catch a train from London to the small city in which we would be staying for the first week, Southend. We took the tube from Heathrow to Tower Hill and the first sight of England I got was the Tower of London (pictured). I cannot even begin to explain the feeling that washed over me. Here was something that I had read about time and time again right there in front of me. It was like a dream come true.

I spent a great deal of that trip discovering things about myself. There were times that my friend and his wife wanted to spend together (of course) and because they had been to England more than once, they were often less interested in spending all their time sight-seeing in London. This meant that I spent quite a bit of my time on my own in a huge, foreign city. If you’ve never done this, allow me to suggest it. You’d be surprised just how much you learn about yourself.

Part of our trip was spent in the beautiful city of Oxford. This was by far my favorite experience. The connections to some of my favorite literature – Tolkien, Lewis, Carroll – the architecture, the prestige. I loved it. At one point my friend and I stumbled upon a small church connected to one of the colleges (the picture to the left was taken as we exited). We walked inside and found a small chamber choir rehearsing in the chapel. It was magical. When we left this church I turned to my friend and said, “One day, I want to live here.” I had been inspired by a gentleman we had met earlier during a walking tour. He was a librarian at one of the many college libraries – the oldest library in the English speaking world. Furthermore, he was Canadian. This may not seem like such an amazing thing, but it gave me a model. I figured I could move there and become a janitor, or groundskeeper, or just about anything else one could think of – except being a student. I was a University dropout and Oxford is known for its selectivity. What chance could I possibly have? I didn’t even consider it. Serious consideration would likely have caused the heavens to collapse upon the earth.

At this point I would like to deviate from the main story for a moment. Most of my life I hated drinking water. I know this may sound strange, but unless it was juice or pop I wouldn’t want to drink it. While sight-seeing in London, we took the tube to Covent Garden. We noticed signs directing people towards elevators, but the line to board the elevators was so long, we decided to take the stairs. What a mistake that was. The stairs wound along a large concrete support beam. One could not see more than just a few steps in front before it rounded to the right, so it was impossible to tell how many steps there were ahead. I still don’t know how many steps we walked up, but it was a hell of a lot. Even before the halfway point I was sure I was dying. It just kept going on – round and round. Finally, nearly at a crawl, we reached the top, and exited into Covent Garden (pictured). At that point I did something that I cannot remember ever having done before. I asked for a bottle of water. I drank the whole thing without stopping for a single breath. I can’t say why, but ever since that day water has been what I drink the most.

When I got home from that trip life went back to normal. Except now I had a sense of direction. I knew that I wanted to live in Oxford. I immediately began looking into the various programs that allow Canadians to live and work abroad for a number of years. In time, these programs seemed less and less worthwhile. Sure, it would be a great experience. But what would I do upon my return – which would be inevitable with those programs. The last thing I wanted to do was return to working in the same industry I would be leaving.

Over the next few years I fought off the depression, began to monitor my caloric intake, and started riding my bike as much as I could. I never once stepped foot in a gym – I never could stand those places – instead I did exercises at home while I watched television. After a couple of years I lost most of my extra weight and brought myself back into health. I felt like an entirely new person. I learned quite a bit about responsibility, working as the floor supervisor at my job. I learned how to apply myself in everything that I did. I learned how to work hard. Finally, I decided that it was time to return to school. In January of 2005 I applied to a number of programs at a couple of Universities. To my excitement, I was accepted to the program of my choice.

I found myself at York University. My initial goal was to complete my music undergraduate degree, then look into teachers college in the United Kingdom. Unlike my first attempt at University, this time I had a sense of direction, some life experience, and a strong work ethic.

I found great success at York. My grades were the highest they had ever been, and I was enjoying every experience. My education took me in directions I never dreamed I would go. I began studying the pipe organ with Professor Stephanie Martin, and the study of early music became a focus. This led to a large research project on early English organ music. I loved working with this material and wanted to continue these studies. I now had a new sense of direction – one that not only could incorporate England, but one in which it was an integral. I wanted to study early English music, what better place than England?

But Oxford? It was now September 2007, five years since the trip discussed above. Oxford had maintained its mystical, unattainable qualities – but now the desire to be there went much beyond the architecture and connections to literature. Now it was compounded by the fact that for what I want to study, there is no better place. In fact, the majority of primary sources used in the research project mentioned above all came from scholars from Oxford. Equally unattainable, but much more desirable.

I struggled with the idea of applying for some time. Eventually, with the guidance of professors, friends, and family, I made the decision to apply. What could it hurt? The application process took some time – I had to secure reference letters, draft a letter of intent, refine and submit academic writings, etc. Finally, on November 15, my application was complete and submitted. Now it was just a matter of waiting.

Waiting was difficult. The graduate prospectus site for the program to which I applied warned not to expect a result before sometime in late January 2008. Until then, I would just have to continue with life as normal. I was still finishing my undergraduate degree and in the middle of demanding courses. I kept my focus on my school work, but in the back of my mind I continuously thought about Oxford. A month passed, and the first semester of school came to an end. During the Christmas holidays I worked as much as possible.

I worked Christmas Eve day, and was not having a good time. Back home food was being prepared for a traditional family feast. The store was hectic with last minute shoppers, and the weather outside cold and wet. Work finally finished – not a moment too soon – and as I walked to the car I had borrowed to get myself back to my family home I slipped on the ice. What a day. I needed something good to happen.

I got myself home with just enough time for me to eat with my family before leaving for the church at which I would be singing for the evening Christmas service. As soon as I got in I went into the kitchen. Sitting on the table was a letter from Oxford University. It was in a letter sized envelope and very thin. Remembering the information regarding when results would be available, I assumed that this letter was to inform me that my application had been received, or, that the University requires some other information from me.

I opened it and to my surprise the first line read that my application had been successful. I had actually been accepted to Oxford.

There was still some work that needed to be done – visas, completing my year, etc. – and still some things that need to be ironed out. One major thing is finances. It is costing a great deal of money to complete these studies and I need all the help I can get. Please visit the sponsorship┬ápage of this site to see how you can help.

Although there is still a lot to be done, Oxford here I come!!

Matty Potter Sneak Preview

2 Comments »

  1. Laureen DuBeau Said,

    September 5, 2008 @ 8:22 am

    Hey Matthew,

    Just read ‘My Story’. So many memories came rushing back. I am very pleased and honoured that we could be part of such an amazing journey.

    I can’t wait to read the next chapter…

    Laureen

  2. Melanie Marinucci Said,

    November 27, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    Hey Matt, I just read your story and I said “WOW”. I’m so excited for you in everything you do. You are definitely where you need to be and you are an inspiration for many people.

    Congrats on everything and good luck!!

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