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Hi everyone! My name is Alexandra Allen, and I cannot believe I’m starting my first year of optometry school. This past May, I graduated from Duke University - Go Blue Devils! It seems like just yesterday I was moving into college as a freshman, and now I’m moving to Memphis as a graduate student. I am so grateful for my college experience, not just because of what I learned inside and outside of the classroom, but also for the people I met during my time there. I majored in Biology, with minors in Finance and Chemistry, and was a member of the Dancing Devils. As Duke’s official dance team, we performed at all of the home football games, as well as the home men’s and women’s basketball games. We even placed 9th this spring at the NDA College Dance Nationals. I will never forget the feeling of dancing in Cameron Indoor Stadium alongside some of my best friends for the extremely loud “Cameron Crazies.” Being able to pursue my passion for dance at a high level alongside my academic pursuits was very important to me when making my college decision, and I am so proud of how the team improved during my time there. While leaving Duke is certainly bittersweet, I am beyond excited (and a little nervous) to be starting this new chapter at SCO as a member of the Class of 2026.
I was born and raised in Connecticut, and everyone’s response to this is, “Why Memphis?” My answer is invariably, “Because SCO is here!” While my desire for warmer winters is part of what drew me to the South for my college experience, I had never intended on staying here for post-grad life. My uncle is an optometrist who owns a private practice in Manhattan, and I have numerous other family friends who are optometrists in the New York area. As a freshman in college, I began to seriously pursue optometry as a career path, and believed I would end up studying in New York just like them. My family still lives an hour outside of the city, and many of my college and hometown friends have recently begun working there. Manhattan seemed like the obvious choice for me, and while I had heard of SCO’s reputation for academic and clinical excellence, I had no idea how much I would fall in love with SCO and the people that make it so special.
SCO was my first optometry school interview - and it set the bar incredibly high for the rest that followed. I had never been to Memphis before, but as I prepared for my interview day, I learned what a vibrant city it truly is. I love how you can walk along the Mississippi River on Mud Island and feel like you’re in a small town, but then drive five minutes to the iconic Beale Street and be a part of the happening downtown area. What drew me to Memphis first and foremost, however, was SCO and the people I met during my interview day. I don’t think I ever really appreciated the term “southern hospitality” until I came to SCO. From the security team that was ready to welcome us upon arrival, to the older students who went out of their way to wish us luck and quell any nerves we had about the big day, everyone was so kind and warm. What really stuck with me after leaving Memphis last August was not just the world-class facilities, excellent faculty, private practice support program, and rigorous/full-scope curriculum, but the sense of community. Everyone I met at SCO was incredibly bright and hardworking, but they were also well-rounded people, with diverse interests, backgrounds, and passions. I knew that I would have an incredible support system here. When making my pro-con list before my final decision, the advantages of an education at SCO were so great, and far exceeded those of any other option. And so during my senior fall semester, I decided that Southern College of Optometry would be my new home!
If anyone reading this is about to move to Memphis, you must see the shopping game plan my mother made in preparation for our trip to Tennessee. We drove all the way from Connecticut, over two days and through seven states, with the car filled to the brim and a mile-long shopping list in hand. Since Memphis is such a large city, she mapped out our four shopping zones. In Zone 1 we have At Home, Ashley Furniture, and Great American Furniture. Zone 2 consists of Ikea, Costco, Kirkland’s, and HomeGoods…you get the point! My roommate and I spent the week after our arrival furnishing and organizing our new apartment by trekking back and forth between Mud Island and the four “zones.” While moving had its challenges (I think I assembled at least ten items of furniture in total), I love our finished apartment and was so glad to be fully settled in my new home on Mud Island before orientation began. However, why there are two Target’s only two miles apart here, I will never understand. When ordering your items for pickup, save yourself a small mental breakdown and TRIPLE check which address you’re going to. (Hot tip: Memphis Central is the superior Target).
Orientation was a great experience and thoughtfully organized. It allowed me to meet more people in my class, become familiar with the campus, and learn about the many exciting things Memphis has to offer. The school had various speakers teach us about the history of the profession, SCO, and Memphis, and also scheduled fun activities so that we could meet as many of our classmates as possible. Also, SCO has a “big sib” program where you are matched to a second year student who you can go to for advice or any questions you may have. My “big” has been so helpful leading up to the start of the school-year, answering all of my questions and eliminating any worry I had. The week concluded with the White Coat Ceremony, which was so meaningful. It signified the transition to graduate school and our journey of becoming doctors of optometry as we signed the SCO Honor Code, but it also gave us a chance to step back and recognize all of the hard work that was required to get to this point. My parents flew in for the event and I was able to give them a tour of the campus and The Eye Center. Needless to say, they were just as impressed as I was a year ago when I first stepped foot on SCO’s campus.
Fall semester is in full swing and I think the most surreal moment for me so far has been our Theory and Methods lab. We began our first day of optometry school using our retinoscopes, one of the hardest skills we will learn during our time here. This is designed so that we have the most amount of time to practice and improve upon this skill. Theory lab requires us to wear clinic attire and our new white coats as we work in the practice clinic lanes. I will never forget that moment of sitting in my white coat on my first day, writing down a “prescription” for my simulated eye, in a space that won’t look too different from my future office as an optometrist. Only one month into optometry school, it still amazes me how much I have already learned. Despite the magnitude of information we have to absorb, every day I am reminded of why I am pursuing optometry and why it is the perfect profession for me.
I can truly say I enjoy all of my classmates and have made some amazing friends. We work very hard, but also have such a good time together. Last weekend, Omega Delta, the social fraternity at SCO, organized a school-wide float trip in Missouri. I had never heard of a float trip or been to Missouri before this event, but it was so fun to go camping (also my first time!), take a well-deserved study break, and meet some of the older SCO students. My first month here, I have loved exploring different Memphis bars and restaurants, visiting Graceland, walking along the river on Mud Island, and spending time with my classmates. I can’t believe my first round of midterms are right around the corner, as well as my first lab practical. Wish me luck!