As I ascend the famed mahogany staircase, I once again find myself standing in what used to be NECO’s foyer, now transformed into Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. This is all part of Alcon Night, a yearly fundraiser by VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity) to help fund a medical mission trip. Alcon Night is a casino night where professional card dealers and black-jack and poker tables are set up and your winnings can be used towards raffles prizes. Some of the best prizes this year included ophthalmic lenses, trip to Reno, Nevada, gift certificates to Boston restaurants and designer sunglasses.
Tonight, elegant men dressed in tuxedos and glamorous women in cocktail dresses swirl around the room. Gamblers focus in deep concentration as they plot their next move while observers hover behind them eagerly awaiting the outcome. A gentleman shouts “Come on 10, all I need is a 10” at the blackjack table to my right, while a lady blows kisses onto her dice before releasing them into the hands of Lady Luck. My eyes wander up the wooden columns, following the path of the floral decorations that adorn the grand archways and finally stop at a portrait of Dr. Kozol, one of NECO’s great alumni and past faculty members. His grand posture and stern face only serve to enhance the Downton-Abbey atmosphere.
The room suddenly grows silent as my mind transports me back to the first Alcon night during freshman year. Still forming friendships, I nervously shuffled from one classmate to another, awkwardly trying to strike up conversations. Second- and third-years crowded around the roulette table, laughing and shouting, self-assured high-rollers whose good fortune would never run out. I, on the other hand, lingered wide-eyed near the fringes of the room, taking in the scene, yearning for the day when I would feel so comfortable in these surroundings.
As someone accidentally bumps into my elbow, I am jolted back into the present. My classmate pulls me across the room as I watch the sea of now-familiar faces float by. Many of them have become dear friends over the last three years. Now it is I who stands in the circle with ease and an air of confidence, as freshmen nervously stand in the corner, still finding their place among the upperclassmen.
After the prizes are handed out and everyone gathers their coats and begins to leave, I take one final look around. This is the last time I am attending a NECO Alcon night. By now, I should be used to the beauty and elegance within NECO’s walls, perhaps taking it for granted. Even after three years, however, I am still wowed by how lucky I am to be part of this community, surrounded by smart, caring people in a place that has become my second home.
Taking on my last semester here at NECO before setting off on fourth year clinical rotations, it has a different vibe to it than the previous ones. I feel as if these past three years we have rowed on a raft firmly tethered to the mother ship that has guided and kept us afloat on our treacherous voyage across the ocean of optometry. Each year NECO has increased the amount of rope between us ever so slightly, until we find ourselves as second-semester third-years and almost at the end of the rope’s length. Now our class schedules are deceptively light. Much of our time is occupied with overseeing second-years at clinic and frantically studying every available minute for part I board exams, which are fast approaching. After years of craving independence and praying for the end of weekly pre-clinic assignments, we now stand on the verge of embarking on our optometric careers. Taking a moment to reflect, however, we realize that NECO has equipped us with the clinical oars and necessary skills to brave the waiting seas. So this semester as I paddle through my last stretch of Boards preparation, thesis writing, optometry meetings and NECO events…I plan to take in every last bit of knowledge and experience NECO has to offer. Ready to release the rope from the bollard, I prepare to bid adieu to Beacon Street and set sail on my own into 4th year, where new adventures await.
Laura graduated from NECO with a dual OD/MS degree in 2016. Originally from New Jersey, she attended Lafayette College with a double major in biology and German. She developed an interest in optometry after conducting research on vision-related responses in turtle eyes. For her master's project at NECO, she studied possible causes of developmental progression of myopia in Dr. Rucker’s lab.