Born To Be at NYU

As this NYU student returned back to her family’s first stomping grounds, she finds her true self.

Under the Arch

Born To Be at NYU

As this NYU student returned back to her family’s first stomping grounds, she found her true self.

Alexa Donovan stands in front of 211 Thompson St., an apartment building in Greenwich Village. Alexa is looking at the camera and wearing a navy shirt and denim skirt.

Alexa Donovan stands outside of 211 Thompson St., the apartment where her parents met, and her first childhood home. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Alexa Donovan, Contributing Writer | Oct 20, 2022

I’m not sure if it was intuition or the younger version of myself who had lived on Thompson Street, but I have always had tremendous confidence that I was meant to end up here.

Ever since I left my first home nestled between Bleecker and W. 3rd Street, a magnet has been drawing me back. Back to the noise and the neon, the flashing lights, screaming cab drivers, and angry pedestrians. Back to unfriendly rats and dirty streets. Back to the greatest people on this planet, and most interesting individuals and communities.

I can see my mom’s old apartment building from my spot on the eighth floor of Bobst Library. It’s on the same block as my dorm, and she barely lived there after crossing the park that one night — the night she met my dad.

My mom was an NYU alum living on Fifth Avenue in 1998. She hadn’t planned to go out the night of May 7, but her friend, Helen, had convinced her to come over to her apartment at 211 Thompson St. There, my mom was introduced to a young man down the hall from Helen’s apartment. He was tall, clad in tan chinos and a black t-shirt, and spoke with a thick Long Island accent.

“I didn’t really think anything at that point except he was cute, but I was like whatever,” my mom explained to me.

Still, she went and knocked on his door the next day, and they ended up at the nightclub Float until the early hours of the following morning. There have been very few days between then and now that my parents haven’t seen each other. 

The early days of my parents’ relationship were spent walking home from clubs like Life and Twilo, wandering around Bleecker Street at four in the morning and eating at Arturo’s every weekend. 

In 2002, my parents got married at the Down Town Association in the Financial District. Just two years later, my mom waddled across the stage at Lincoln Center to accept her diploma from New York Law School, as I was impatiently waiting to be born. In her last year of law school, she’d been satisfying her pregnancy cravings with dozens of cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, and several lemonades a day — two of my favorite things. I wonder if there’s any genetic explanation for that. 

Alexa Donovan stands by her first childhood home on Thompson Street. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

In the early hours of June 3, she arrived at NYU Langone Hospital just in time after nearly giving birth in a cab. Shortly after, I got well-acquainted with New York from inside of my stroller. 

“Her first crib was at 211, her first stroller walks were through Greenwich Village and SoHo,” my dad said. “My daughter lay on my chest as she slept many times while I laid on the floor reading a book, rubbing her back and feeling our heartbeats synchronize.”

The relationship between my parents and this neighborhood, which is considered part of NYU’s campus, has always been the thing that kept my heart here, even after we had physically left. 

“Mom and I fell in love in the city under the big lights on a small street, and you are a result of that love coupled with experiencing life in the big city,” my dad said.

He is right. My incredibly strong love for New York— both my old and new neighborhood — is anchored by the love between two people who loved their city in the same way that they loved each other. And I don’t think I know a love stronger than theirs.

Growing together was implicitly tied to their neighborhood. Exploring the area and falling more and more in love each step of the way. Having me, their first child, in that 500-square-foot apartment is what led to us being a tight-knit family of New Yorkers. Our heartbeats synchronized with each other and with the noises of New York. 

And now I’m back in the city that I had been dying to return to since before I can remember. I didn’t expect to beg my mom to drive me back to the suburbs the day I moved into my dorm this August, before my first semester of college had even begun. As much as I loved Manhattan, I couldn’t imagine my life as a young adult here — I could only imagine it as a baby. 

I was so uncomfortable. This city was so big, and the urge to get out there and become a part of it is intense. It leaves you with no time to settle in, take a breather and accept that you are small in this city. 

But, that is not necessarily bad. You are a piece of it. You are one of around 6,000 in your graduating class, 29,700 in your undergraduate school, 53,576 in your entire university, and one in more than eight million in your new home. Suddenly, I was so small and scared that the love I had always known would leave me. I quickly realized that the love I had — the love that my parents’ love story ingrained in me — was growing larger and larger each day. 

I fell back in love with Manhattan less than a day later. As quickly as my mom moved from Fifth Avenue to Thompson Street., my heart moved back here. The same way that my parents had their pockets of calmness within the chaos, like at Arturo’s, I began to find mine with the girls upstairs, at the lemonade stands in the park and the walk to the Silver Center each day. I started to find a version of myself that I had been waiting to meet for my entire life. 

Now, as I walk past 211 Thompson St. regularly and always stop to take a picture for the family group chat, I realize that I have found true happiness. In the same way that my parents found themselves and each other here, I have found myself here. 

My dad describes this as the city that “allows himself to be happy with who he was.” And I am nothing if not my father’s daughter.