Or this post could be titled: Look at all the ridiculous hair styles and colors I used to have. (ps didn’t even show you half of them because some things just don’t need to be on the internet…)
Photos in this post are from my college days, just look at those babies!
First, my story of how I graduated high school a year early and how I chose the college in my hometown with 2 simple questions.
I grew up on the outskirts of a medium-sized town right under Charlotte, NC (on the South Carolina side). It was perfect. We lived in a giant field surrounded by lots of other giant fields. Lots of room to run and play but there were three Walmarts within a 15-20 minute drive. In my hometown there was a small, but great technical college and a medium-sized, public university. But, we were kids who couldn’t wait to get out of there. Drop that hick town and head down the road to Clemson or USC or to live on the beautiful coast of Charleston. Seriously, I don’t think a single person in my high school considered another school besides these three. I was on track to go to USC, join a sorority, attend football games and party all night long every weekend. Because, that’s just what you do, right?
Well, that’s what we all believed.
A week before Junior year I went into the school to count textbooks as part of a club (I have no recollection as to why this was an activity we did as a service type club but we did) and, for some also unknown reason, I stopped in to see my guidance counselor. Note: this was not something I did, ever. She looks at my transcript and says ‘You have enough credit to graduate at the end of this year, pending you pass all your classes. Have your mom come sign the papers tomorrow‘. And she did. The next day.
The conversation went like this:
Me: Ms. Jackson said I can graduate early
My mom: Ok. Only if you stay home next year, live at home, go to the tech school and then you can go to whatever college you want.
These 2 incredibly, unfathomably simple conversations changed my life. Everything I knew changed right there. All my plans. At that time I thought my plans were still on track. I would go to the tech school, get my basic courses done and then the next year when my friends graduated we will all ride off to USC and start our college days. I had no idea how wrong those thoughts were. And I am so glad…. I start York Technical College by walking in and literally signing up. I learned that day that you don’t apply to tech schools, you just go. Also, my mom and I were in college together that semester. She had gone back to school and it was weird and cool. She took early classes and would call me and say ‘come pull into my parking spot’ (there was limited parking at school) and I would say ‘I’m still in bed I’m going to be late for class’. As you can imagine she wasn’t thrilled with this answer…. So it wasn’t always fun to go to college with your mom…Photo source
My first week of school I sent a Facebook message to my high school young life leader (who’s in college at the university in town) just because I need to make friends and don’t know what to do because reality hit that first week that my friends were all in high school still and we had completely different lives now. First sign of change appears. My Young Life leader says, yeah lets hang out Wednesday, lets get coffee and go to this fun thing. So I show up at Young Life Leader Training. And have a freaking blast. These college kids are soooooo cool and so fun and totally invite me to hang out with them. Second sign of change appears. From this day forward there are no questions, these people are my friends and Im a Young Life Leader. But before my Young Life Director will allow me to become a leader officially he needs to know that I am invested and will stay in town and go to the local university. Can you guess what I said? OK.This third, insanely simple conversation has officially cemented in the path of my life. You should know that this is spring semester and Ive spent the last 6 months hanging out on the university’s campus, making friends that would be in my daily life 10 years later and falling in love with it. So this choice was a no brainer. Just like graduating early was. Photo source From here I transfer to Winthrop University which is a liberal arts college, that is teeming with hippies, has no football team, has less than 10,000 students, is about a city block big and only has two ridiculous (and small) sororities. The opposite of what I had imagined my college experience looking like. I choose Social Work as my major, instead of Interior Design. I have classes with 12 girls, 4 professors in the department and we delve into every social issue imaginable. I become highly involved in the high school I am leading Young Life at. Im eating lunch there, coaching dance, planning events for high school students and taking them to camps. I move in with other Young Life leaders. We stay up late, build fires, eat junk food, play pranks, dress up in weird costumes at least once a week. I work tons of crappy jobs to pay rent, eat Chic-Fil-A and Japanese hibachi takeout weekly, oh and to pay for college. Its the most amazing four years of my life. I meet my husband, I travel, I make friends.
It’s the perfect college experience that I didn’t imagine. I wish it on everyone. The past and the future come face to face.
As a child I did not go to summer camp where you learn to canoe and tie knots and climb things. I went to Writing Camp. And it was AWESOME. So snark away. I went to a writing camp that was put on at the aforementioned local university. Winthrop had a lake and this is a very loose use of the work ‘lake’. It’s a pond ok. There’s a big, gorgeous, historic building called The Shack at the lake and that’s where camp was. Here I learned that writing fiction was not my calling, but I loved writing (cough cough future blogger in the making). I remember sitting outside the shack digging deep into my elementary/middle school soul to write for this program.Photo Source
Growing up we also frequented the lake as a family and then with my friends in high school. The Shack side of the lake was the ‘family or townie side’. There was parking and shade and lots of community events over here. I remember looking out on that, then seemingly huge, lake and relishing my childhood, the things I was learning and the friends I had. We had adventures and picnics. It was magical.
I never in a million years dreamed I was staring straight into the face of my future. Photo Source
Fast forward years later and I am sitting on the ‘college side’ of the lake. I am lying in the grass. I have a stack of books I’m pretending to study. My friends are throwing frisbees over me and lounging beside me. We are soaking up the sun, the endless amounts of freetime and the freedom of doing nothing but exactly what we want to. I sit up and stare across the lake at The Shack. I see my childhood staring back at me. But I don’t even realize it.
The threads of my life came be traced by walking a circle around that lake.
The reflecting part: What I learned by going to college in my hometown.
I was given this beautiful gift. I was able to live in two completely different towns that were one. Growing up I lived in the ‘this road takes me to my high school’ and ‘this road is the church road’ and ‘lets go to the grocery store side of town’. But in college I lived in the ‘campus area’ the ‘indie art and record shop road’ the ‘cool coffee shop’ area. I was introduced to my town through the eyes of outsiders. Most of my friends were from out of town. And they LOVED my town. It was so new to them and had so many exciting things in it. The few city blocks surrounding the college had truly taken on a life and culture of its own, apart from what I knew of high school football friday nights and dance practice after school. I truly had moved to a brand new town, but I had the secret gift of not being able to get lost. I didn’t need directions to new places, I just needed to develop new eyes to see the places.
I also learned that my family is amazing….when you live 20 minutes away from them and not with them…. Lets just say I (and they) were blessed by my ability to come home for dinner or to help with something without ever having to move back in or stay over. We all know, it’s a very hard transition for a college student/their parents to go back and forth between living independently and being back at home again. I didn’t have this issue, because my own house was close enough to not need that place to stay to be able to be home on holidays or for summer, etc.
I learned that connections and relationships make the world go round. Being in my hometown I never had to look far to get a job or find a free meal. I knew people. I had known them my whole life. Anytime myself or my friends needed something I always knew who/where they should go. Because this was MY town. I loved that. My friends loved that.
I experienced healing in relationships. We all know that high school and the simple act of growing up doesn’t always leave the most pleasant tastes in ones mouth….But by sticking around I was able to meld the maturity I was experiencing in my formidable growing up years to the awkward grocery store interactions with high school awkwardness. It is so freeing.
I was able to say good-bye to my town in the right way. Had I flown the coop right after high school, my hometown would always be that bitter place of high school drama and teenage angst and the desire to run far and fast. But because I fell in love with this place in a whole new way, leaving was very bittersweet. I was ready, I knew I needed to branch out and was ready to begin my life of moving, travelling and exploring. But I wasnt leaving out of hatred or running from things, I was leaving because it was time. It was a natural transition. I got married, we pursued our graduated degrees in a new town (that we also fell in love with) and then began our international career. Happy, but hard transitions.
Which brings up the fact that all my friends and family are all in one place! For some reason, most of my besties stuck around in their new town after graduation. So when I go home, I go Home. I see family, friends, my past and my present. It’s such a gift.
It saved me money. I lived at home and went to the technical school the first year. Best idea ever. I saved so much money not paying rent and not paying expensive tuition, got the same education and still had the same ‘fun’ experiences. My last semester I had a full time internship with the city solicitor as a victims advocate and I got engaged. This meant my 3 part time jobs were about to go down to 1. AKA no more money for rent, oh and I really wanted to get married and apparently you have to have money for that…So I was able to move in with my wonderful grandma (hey gram!) to save money. This was such a fun little time and Im so glad I got to share that with her. Oh and thanks again for the free rent gram! Oh and if you count all the meals at home and all the home supplies I ‘borrowed’ from my parents, I would never have been able to come out of college debt free had I lived far away and had to pay for all of things.
Going to college in my hometown healed it. It changed me. It gave me and my town a second change. It cemented my relationships. It was a gift. I can revisit this town anytime I want. I can go back and stroll the campus. I can go back and eat grandma’s mac and cheese. Your hometown you grow up in and your college town are the two places, I believe, where you see the most growth, change, challenges and big events. I am so lucky I was able to braid the two together creating a woven life of childhood laughter and the antics of 20 year olds out at midnight eating Waffle House and looking for an adventure.
My college besties/roommates/life partners + mentors two days before I moved to Korea.