Past Agora editors take on the Big Apple

A melting pot of culture, art and business — New York City’s bright lights lure ambitious people from all over the world. Two editors from the Agora went on to conquer the concrete jungle.

Leah Thomas, left, and Vanessa Ray pose for a photo atop Thomas’ apartment overlooking the Brooklyn skyline. — Photo by Leah Thomas

Vanessa Ray was part of the Agora from Fall 2016 to Winter 2019 and editor during the 2017-2018 school year. She graduated in 2018 with an Associate of Science degree.

“There is nowhere else like New York City — the people, the culture, the atmosphere — from my first time visiting I knew this was somewhere I wanted to live,” Ray said via email.

Ray was accepted into Columbia University and is currently enrolled in her first semester.

“Going to Columbia has been the experience of a lifetime,” Ray said in her email. “Never in a million years did I think I’d be attending the same school Barack Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alexander Hamilton (and hundreds of other amazing people) went to.”

When she moved to New York City, Ray did not have to face an obstacle many others do. Her younger brother had an apartment in the city, and she moved in with him. This meant that her preparation for the move was more focused in Monroe.

“Rather than stress about moving away, I prepared by making the most of every day I had left in Monroe by spending time with my friends and working as much as I could at the Monroe News,” she said.

Ray moved to the city in August and began attending classes in September. However, she said that anxiousness soon found its way into her mind.

“Though I was excited about starting classes at Columbia, my first few weeks were beyond stressful — and my anxiety manifested itself into a bad case of imposter syndrome.”

Befriending her classmates has helped her cope, Ray said.

While in NYC, Ray said she has observed the stereotypical image of the city and its inhabitants to be a mix of fact and fiction.

“There are so many misconceptions,” Ray said. “One being that New Yorkers are brash, snobby and rude, when in fact they are some of the kindest and most helpful people I’ve ever met.”

One of the stereotypes Ray said was true is that everything in NYC is expensive and New Yorkers walk fast, always seeming to be in a rush. She said that rush is the worst in subways.

Ray said since she enjoys traversing all over the city, there are many places she deems her favorite.

“Every neighborhood has its charming qualities. I live on the Upper East Side, but I would have to say Lower Manhattan (Greenwich Village, SoHo, Tribeca) is my favorite area,” Ray said. “Central Park is also incredible — some must-sees are the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, the Great Lawn, Belvedere Castle and the Shakespeare Garden next to it and Bethesda Fountain.”

For people yearning to “be a part of it” and move to the city, Ray suggests a few things: visit multiple times first, account for the noise and volume of people and recognize the high cost of living.

“However, the most important advice is to make sure you have a strong support network,” Ray said. “In a city of 8.6 million people, the loneliness is amplified. For me, having my brother and his friends has been a godsend. Also knowing Leah is just a few stops away on the Q-Train is extremely comforting.”

Leah Thomas was the Agora editor during the 2016-2017 school year. She graduated in 2018 with Ray and received an Associate of Applied Science degree.

Although Thomas said she thinks fondly of her years at MCCC, she missed the classical education she received during her homeschooled days.

“The King’s College is a really small Christian liberal arts school,” Thomas said via email. “All students begin by studying the three pulses of society — politics, philosophy, and economic — before pursuing their specific fields. This foundation is the lens through which we approach all future courses. This structure has helped solidify my understanding of every discipline because concepts that remain independent at most schools are integrated here.”

This, along with Thomas’ wish to try something different than Monroe’s rural lifestyle, compelled her to move to NYC.
Before moving, Thomas said she watched YouTube videos to inform her on what to pack, and looked for ways to transition into college life and combat homesickness.

“I signed up for volleyball and got to arrive two weeks before all the other students for preseason,” Thomas said. “That time allowed me to make friends before classes started, so I already recognized a few faces in the hall on the first day of class.”

NYC has presented many opportunities she said, both in the social and professional realm.

Thomas said her professors have invited interesting work friends to lectures, allowing her the opportunity to have discussions with professionals.

She has also started to work for the school as a faculty assistant and research assistant for professors.

“MCCC taught me the value of getting to know your professors. As a homeschool kid, I didn’t have much interaction with teachers before college,” she said. “Since then, I have found that professors are my favorite people, and I will take every opportunity I get to work with and for them.”
Through this experience, Thomas said that she has grown tremendously.

“It’s a strange experience because you feel excited, confused, and overwhelmed all at the same time. I feel like I have my entire life ahead of me, yet still feel like I never have enough time,” she said. “It’s a paradox I’m still trying to adjust to.”

Although she has lived in the city for over a year, Thomas said that still does not consider herself the “veteran” her hometown friends and family believe her to be.

“Yes, I live in New York. I can help you navigate the subway. I can show you where Alexander Hamilton was buried on my way to school. And I definitely know the best place to get an extravagant milkshake,” she said. “But I don’t know if that building is full of offices or apartments. I’m not sure what’s on and off Broadway right now. And no, I haven’t seen anyone famous, though my roommate has.”

Over her time, Thomas said she has accumulated a few spots she would consider to be her favorites, including the Roxy Hotel.

“If you are in town, go there and order an iced honey cinnamon latte with macadamia milk from Jack’s Stir Brew. It will change your life and clean the cash out of your pockets,” she said.

Thomas also has a suggestion for something sweet.

“And if you were wondering what that milkshake place was I mentioned earlier, it’s Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer. It will provide you with the kind of massive milkshakes you see on your Instagram feed.”