An illustrated scene of people dressed in Halloween costumes with the Michigan flag in the background
Design by Avery Nelson.

We often describe Halloween as an escape. A night where you can dress up, be someone else for a day and have fun, independent of the real world of every other day. Halloween has never served this purpose for me, and it probably never will. I’ll never use the day to pretend to be someone else — and that’s a good thing. 

Growing up, I never particularly liked Halloween. Every year, my parents attempted to force me to dress up, much to my dismay. I futilely cried, complained and wailed all night, just so I didn’t have to go trick-or-treating — which they made me do anyway. At about 7 years old, I stopped celebrating Halloween completely. I never felt comfortable dressing up and begging for candy, and I never went trick-or-treating with kids from my classes. I always went door-to-door with my younger siblings, something no older sibling wants, dressed in costumes designed for boys, none of which I picked out — something no one wants. I never dressed up again throughout my school years. In fact, this is the first year I have dressed up in 13 years, and dressing up has made me realize a lot of things about my college experience, for all of which I’m thankful. Struggling with my gender identity throughout high school made dressing up virtually impossible. I never felt like I fit in or was comfortable with anyone. I always felt excluded, not because people actively excluded me but because I was never comfortable with how I presented myself, and dressing up accentuated that perpetual discomfort tenfold. This year, I didn’t feel that discomfort.

I transferred to the University of Michigan, 600 miles from home, in January 2023, having never stepped into the state of Michigan before and knowing no one, but I am eternally thankful for what I have found in my relatively short time here. Halloween reinforced just why I’m so thankful. I have found almost all of my friends here by chance encounters — dining hall exchanges, brief crossings of paths and plain luck.

This year, I decided to dress up with a group of friends I met through those kinds of chance encounters, not as anything crazy: I wore a pair of loafers I frequently enjoy and a pair of red stockings I purchased online, threw on my favorite dress shirt and a skirt I borrowed from a friend and topped the outfit off with a much-too-long cape I found somewhere in my house. As a cherry on top, my friend smeared fake blood on my face.

I told my friends it was the first time since I was a kid that I had dressed up, much to their surprise. All my friends have been celebrating Halloween for as long as they can remember; it seemed bizarre to them that I couldn’t even remember the year I stopped. At the time, none of us really thought about how important the statement was — not even me. By repeating that tidbit, I was unconsciously stressed by how big a step I was taking, even if they saw dressing up as just a silly activity to engage in once a year. What started as a funny anecdote soon made me realize just how far I have come, the community I have found and how lucky I am that my immense risk paid off. 

The experience was surreal, walking through the Diag to my friend’s apartment on State Street to get ready, then back through the Diag — all while passing hordes of fellow students partaking in the same tradition in wildly different ways. What seemed like a normal yearly ritual to most people was completely uncharted territory for me. Meeting with my friends at one of our apartments, embracing one another and getting ready with each other all served as beautiful entries into a world into which I had previously never endeavored. Halloween was always scary, not because of the prevalence of face paint, fake blood and makeup donned by my peers, but because it was a day I never felt included in. I was never comfortable within its reportedly wide confines.

This year, I proudly took a dive into Halloween, fully engrossing myself in the experience I’d been long reluctant to even entertain. For someone who has always struggled with being perceived, I was often too nervous to be open about myself and who I am. Halloween has given me the opportunity to fully represent myself. A costume is sometimes just that: a disguise. But for me, it serves as an extension of myself. 

For too long, I have been afraid to be unapologetic and unwavering in my individuality. Halloween hasn’t served as an escape from the outside world; it has served as a much-needed thrust into it, complete with people I never would have met in a place that, if not for college, I never would have been. That’s what the “college experience” is all about.

Daily Arts Contributor Rose Iorio can be reached at