Abe Fleischer is exhausted. It’s midafternoon during Boston University orientation sessions and Boston’s summer sun is beating down on him as he guides a gaggle of incoming students from building to building. The young adults chatter enthusiastically and pepper him with questions that he answers patiently and accurately. His brown eyes squint against the glare of the sun, and he’s developing a killer headache. He’s hot, tired, and half-delirious from a lack of sleep. But he’s never been more content.
“It’s really exciting because we get so emotionally invested in them,” he says of the new students.
When summer ends, Abe will enter into his third year at Boston University. He’s an advertising major who recently switched over from the College of Fine Arts, where he was studying lighting design. It’s a big change, but that’s something Abe’s used to. He’s come from a town of less than 6,000 people to a university with more than 18,000 students. The difference is stark, but he couldn’t be happier. Freed from the restrictions of his small town, Abe has finally found the liberty to be himself.
While he was born in Philadelphia, Abe lived in Pennsylvania for just three years before his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. “I loved living in St. Louis,” he says. “I remembered how much I liked it because I’ve always loved living in cities. I don’t like small towns.” But when he was six, his family moved to his mother’s hometown, a tiny town called Carlinville, Illinois, where she opened up a pediatrics practice. Its population is 5,813. “They are proud of that,” Abe says. “I am not.”
Carlinville had only one school district, and everyone went to kindergarten together. Abe was a newcomer among children who were fast friends who were loathe to accept an outsider. “It was partially me being a very awkward child for most of my life,” he says. “And the other part was just that I plain old didn’t like the people.”
As he grew older, he realized the differences between him and his classmates weren’t limited to his being an outsider — they had fundamentally different outlooks on politics, social justice, and American society. “Southern Illinois thinks they’re the deep south,” Abe says. “They just do. They have confederate flags on their houses and all of this stuff. And I’m like, ‘…Lincoln is from here. And President Obama is from here… There’s a number of reasons why you’re just wrong.” Although he was frustrated by their views, Abe kept his mouth shut. “I didn’t even start talking openly about politics until I got here. Because I’m very, very liberal... I think the more we share the better. And those kinds of ideas don’t really fly in Carlinville.”
College was his ticket out. Abe discovered BU and fell in love. “The more I researched it, the more I liked it,” he says. “I just thought it looked great and really like a great place to be.”
The size and diversity of the university excited him. Here was a place in a city that had a little of everything. And it was huge. “I love not only the fact that it’s in Boston…but the size of the university itself. I brag to people about the fact that there are 4,000 people in my class and that I don’t know half of them. It’s such a selling point for me.”
It’s a stark change from Carlinville, whose graduating class consisted of 109 students. “I knew all of them,” he says, “and I did not want that to be the case.” But more than just the size, BU offered a variety of activities for Abe to throw his energy into. “I like being in a place where there’s always something untapped. There’s always something new that I can do and I’m never out of options.”
Abe has tapped into many of those options. He’s the PR and advertising chair for Alternative Spring Break, an admissions ambassador, and a member of the undergraduate student advisory board. He’s involved in the Empowerment League in the Community Service Center, where he participates in a program called Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción Afterschool, and up until this semester he was in charge of lighting design for Stagetroupe. “Part of me regrets it because I’m doing everything all the time,” he says. “But part of me knows I have trouble with free time. I either fill it with Netflix or I fill it with involvement. There’s no in-between.”
It’s an explosion of activity compared to his Carlinville days, where his only after school activities were band and theater. Abe attributes his increased involvement to an increase in quality of the people around him.
“I’m a people person,” he says. And perhaps that’s why Carlinville was so frustrating: “It was too small for me.”
But BU — and Boston — have turned out to be just the right size. “Who knows what’s going to happen?” he says. “But I’m content to stay here for a while.”