Personal Statement: A Place to Call Home

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Emily Hardie/Daily
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 6:57pm

I never expected to go to the University of Michigan.

I grew up in a small town in the middle of a cornfield (also known as southwest Michigan) and graduated in a class of 59 students. There, college isn’t “expected” by any means. The town I grew up in has a population of roughly 1,500 people and is primarily dominated by agriculture and factory work.

It’s the kind of place that doesn’t offer AP classes, but does offer a consumer’s math course (basically we learned how to finance a house and do our taxes — “real-life” math, if that’s what you want to call it). We didn’t have any college-prep classes like calculus. The kids who did want to go to college — the few that there were — were not exposed to the rigorous curriculum that prepares students for schools like the University.

Many of my peers entered the workforce straight out of high school, per usual. It’s more uncommon for kids in my town to go to four-year universities than it is to get a job and buy a house.

Because of this, I tried to keep most of my college endeavors under wraps. Friends and family members knew I wanted to go to college, but they didn’t really know where I was thinking of applying. The general consensus for most education-oriented students was community college. For a long time, that’s where I thought I would end up.

At some point during my senior year, though, I started applying everywhere, including schools with out-of-state, private price tags. I didn’t apply because I thought I would go to the schools I was applying to, but just because I wanted to see where I would get in. I had the grades, the ACT scores and extracurriculars, but I came from a little Midwest town in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t getting into the University.

So you can imagine the conflict of emotions I had when I received a big envelope in the mail with the word “Congratulations” sprawled across the top. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be accepted to the University of Michigan, mostly because a part of me hoped I wouldn’t get in.

It sounds stupid, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend a school with a price tag like the University’s. It almost hurt to be accepted and know that I couldn’t go. I had tossed the idea of going to school here out the window at the same time I submitted the application.

I hadn’t considered attending the University as a legitimate option, so now that the opportunity was open to me, I didn’t really know what to think. Kids like me who come from towns like mine generally don’t even apply to schools like the University, let alone get in. I hadn’t been on a visit, I didn’t know how I would major in nursing at a school that people call “a public Ivy,” and I was lacking in the math and science background that I would need.

Ultimately, though, I decided to go. I can’t really explain how it happened — one second, I had given up any shred of an idea that I would go to school here, and the next (which was conveniently the last day to register), I was enrolled at the University. I had received financial aid and scholarships that covered all of the costs, which I think was a driving factor in the decision.

But there was something about unanswered potential that really made me want to branch out and go somewhere I had never even been before. So I enrolled.

I didn’t tell my family about my decision for a while, in particular because they weren’t thrilled about the idea of me going to college in the first place. My parents have always been a little disengaged in the process, especially after my brother graduated high school. It’s hard to explain, but basically I was verified as an “unaccompanied homeless youth” in high school.

I moved in with my brother during my sophomore year. I worked two jobs and paid for my own clothes, car, groceries and bills. Neither one of my parents had been there for me through the application process, so I did it by myself.

Needless to say, it was pretty clear from the beginning that if I decided to go to school, I’d be responsible for footing the bill. What I didn’t expect was the support that the University gave me with my finances. Once I realized I would have the funds to go, it seemed like a prime opportunity to be a first-generation college student.

Looking back on it now, it wasn’t easy being self-sufficient in high school. But in the long run, I appreciate the lack of support I had at such a crucial point in my life. It taught me to be independent and responsible in times where I shouldn’t have to have been, and nothing has prepared me more for my time at the University.

What I wasn’t ready for was how difficult it would be to go through college without a traditional support system. It’s frustrating — so unbelievably frustrating — to not have the support that I felt other students had. As a first-generation student who was alienated at the start of my college career, I consistently felt I was lacking support.

My family doesn’t really know the norms of college, and I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot because of that. Care packages haven’t ever been a thing, nor will they ever be. I don’t get phone calls from my parents asking about my exams because they don’t remember when they are. There’s never been an interest in my writing for the Daily, or for attending a football game with me or seeing campus.

At risk of sounding like an angsty 20-year-old, I want to clarify that it’s not that my parents want me to fail in life — they’re my parents, they obviously don’t. But they don’t see college for what it is, and that’s an opportunity for me to build on my potential. And it seems that no matter how much time I spend here, or how much work I put in, it’ll just be considered a waste of time.

So despite the lack of background knowledge in math or Spanish or whatever academic challenges I may have faced that first semester freshman year (and continue to face), those weren’t my biggest obstacles coming into college. I didn’t have a support system to fall back on.

That hurt most when my roommates were calling their moms for medical advice, or when they needed a shoulder to cry on after a hard exam or when their families would come to visit. It’s why I feel uncomfortable around my friends’ families — not because I’m envious or bitter, but because I don’t know how those things are supposed to work.

If you’re like me, and your family doesn’t back you up as often as you wish they would, the best thing you can do is find a place that provides you with a makeshift family. I got a taste of that with my two roommates freshman year (lucky, I know). But really, the place where I found the most comfort was the Daily.

It sounds like such a plug and so cheesy, but it’s true. I don’t know if it’s because we never stop covering events or publishing stories so it seems like a constant presence, but the Daily is my home. It’s like being a part of a sports team. The older students have mentored me, and picked me up when I’ve been down. The people I’ve met have done so much for me on an unbelievable scale, and I’m not sure they know it.

But even with the support I’ve learned in college, I still face challenges when I go home. As a second-semester sophomore, my dad still asks me if I am planning to graduate. It’s like a surprise that I’ve stuck it out this long, and even more surprising that I plan on staying.

If I had a dollar for every time someone implied that I couldn’t graduate from college, I’d probably have enough money to pay the University’s tuition without any financial aid.

Long story short, everyone has a different path to Ann Arbor. For some, it might be as simple as counting to 10. But for me, it changed my life. It taught me to go beyond expectations and to try things I never thought I would ever be able to try, and I feel like that’s kind of what college is all about.