I have met hundreds of people throughout my three years at Ohio University, and every single one of them is part of the reason I am the person I am today. I came to OU not expecting my life to change too much. Sure, I wasn’t living with my parents anymore, but that was only a plus. The food sucked and I didn’t have a job with disposable income, but other than that I expected to graduate very much the same person I was when I left high school.
My first weekend of college before classes started was a new world. I decided to go out with a few friends to see what this “party school” reputation was all about. For those unfamiliar with OU, there are hills everywhere. And walking across the top of the hill that first weekend, and looking down Mill St. was an experience I will never forget. I had never seen so many people in one place on a regular night, with no occasion whatsoever. I was blown away–speechless. And every experience I have had at OU since then has left me just as mind boggled.
I thought that my new college friends would be very similar to my high school friends: a big group of athletic kids who were a little mischievous but well-meaning. Not to say that I love my high school friends any less, but my college friends turned out to be very different. I met people obsessed with video games, theatre majors, extreme sports enthusiasts, feminists, country music lovers, and all sorts of people my high school self never dreamed I would become close with.
Before I even moved onto the Athens campus, I had already met two people who would shape my life. The first day of orientation in August, I met two incredible young women who ended up staying by my side through my entire OU journey with every up and down I faced. Within my first week of classes, I had met two more people in my Learning Community who would later become my best friends. Not that I knew it then, but my life was already changing before I had even put up all the posters in my room.
No one ever told me in high school how important it was to know yourself and love yourself. My entire life I had depended on other people (and things) for my own happiness: friends, boyfriends, sports, school. I was trying to give everything I had without really knowing what I had to give. College is a time to be insanely selfish and get away with it. Before college, life is all about following your parents and teachers and friends, making sure you’re in line. After college, life is about a spouse or children or career with no time for yourself. College is an alternate reality designed just for you. It’s a time to learn anything you want to learn, be friends with whoever you want to be friends with, and find out who the hell you are because you’re living with yourself for the rest of your life.
Ohio University may be known as just a party school, but I don’t necessarily think that’s an insult. Hear me out: I’m not condoning binge drinking or suggesting that slapping the bag become an Olympic sport, but OU and Athens is all about community. Whether it’s in a bar or at a party or in class, there’s something that connects us. Athens is the epitome of living while you’re young. There is no other time in your life when you’re going to be able to function and get good grades while still going out four nights a week. I have visited friends at a lot of other schools and nothing compares to the atmosphere of this university. The party school thing is just one of the many ways students here seize every single day. Your days in college are numbered, and unfortunately mine are fewer than the average Joe.
I would like to thank every single person who has touched my life in this slice of heaven we call Athens. No matter how close we were, everyone here is someone I could not have met anywhere else. I will miss this place more than I can ever put into words. Many people say that college is the best years of your life. I have no intention of leaving behind my best years without legally being able to rent a car. Every year should be the best year of your life. Nothing has turned out like I had planned; I had no idea I would be leaving college so soon, and with such a different direction for the coming years. OU has been the best years of my life so far. And I intend to make every year from now on the best year of my life so far.
But for now, my focus is on Ohio University and everything it has given me. The “Bobcat family” is something orientation leaders and faculty made a huge deal about when I entered this strange place, and I am just now beginning to grasp the true scope of that phrase. I have never been prouder to call myself a Bobcat and, more importantly, continue to be one for the rest of my life. I do have a second family here. It is one I have laughed with, cried with, spent holidays with, and occasionally made a public embarrassment of myself with. I would not have traded these past three years for anything in the world (expect a couple tens of thousands of dollars, oh wait) and Ohio University is so much more than a school to me. It has been my safeguard, my adventure, my vacation, and my home.
Looking back, I keep trying to pinpoint a moment or story that encapsulated my college experience. Yet every time, my memory fails me. I don’t think this is a coincidence, because it has been so much more than just one moment. It has been a feeling that I can only describe as love. People say that leaving Athens is the greatest heartbreak in the world. I’m hoping my breakup isn’t a messy one and Athens and I will still be on speaking terms. And as long as Athens isn’t sleeping around with other people, I think we can still be good friends.
Good luck to every single person returning to OU next year, and don’t take anything for granted.
In the wise words of Ellen Degeneres, “I didn’t go to college here. I didn’t go to college at all, any college. I’m not saying you wasted your time or money, but look at me, I’m a huge celebrity.”