I decided to go to the University of Michigan without ever having stepped foot on this campus. I had a really good feeling about it, and for some reason, my gut knew. I loved what people had to say about U-M grads — that they are wicked smart and successful, but also extremely friendly, kind and humble. From the beginning, I was sure it was something I wanted to be a part of.

I saw this campus for the first time when I arrived for orientation. I knew so little about the University that I asked someone where the center of campus was, and for a while, I thought it was the engineering arch by the South University Espresso Royale. I arrived here by myself, without knowing a single soul, and ready to start my new life.

Sometimes, I think the reason why I especially loved college was because I was ready to leave high school and my booger-sized, suffocating suburban town in New Jersey. It was the kind of bubble where every generation came back and did exactly what their parents did. I was tired of nonsensical drama and of not growing as a person. College, to me, wasn’t just a place to get a degree. It was my chance to finally become the person I wanted to be but had hidden in constant fear of being judged. It was the promised land where I could start new, make friends and learn, learn, learn.

My first semester, I was having so much fun meeting people and getting to know my new home that my mom texted me two months in, asking if I was alive. I had completely absorbed into my new life of classes, friends and tailgates. Now as a graduating senior, I think back on how every day, even with the difficult and stressful ones, has been so exciting. As I write this, with 27 days left, I still wake up every single morning in disbelief that I get to be a student here.

It honestly makes me angry, after all the waiting I did to get to college, that this experience is already coming to an end. A lot of my friends at other colleges say they’re ready to graduate, but I am heartbroken at the thought of ever having to leave. I want more time here. I want to go to Charley’s trivia a couple more nights and attend one more basketball game. I want to have one more movie night over feta bread and one more long run as the leaves around the Diag start to change colors in the fall. I’ll even take another exam to stay here for a minute longer.

It’s been pretty terrifying and miserable to watch the days go by during my senior year. Friends that I chose to be my family for the past four years are signing leases and confirming start dates for their jobs all across the world. I won’t be able to simply call them up for lunch or see them every single day in class. We won’t be seeing Main Street at sunset or deliriously giggling in the UGLi at 3 a.m. I try to constantly remind myself that it’s a good thing I’m devastated about graduating. It means I really built something special here.

So other than this being a tale of woe, this is my thank you to all the people who have made these past four years the most special and happiest of my life.

Each and every one of you has filled me with more love and support than I could’ve ever imagined or thought I deserved. I cannot wait to see where you will all go, because I know you’re going to be doing impactful, thoughtful and incredible things. You are all more than just another person on this planet. You’re going to be leaders and mentors (and the best!). I learned what it truly means to have a community when I came to college because of your words of encouragement and thirst for life. I have cherished our times together, whether it’s a messy night at Rick’s or a chat on our walk to class. You didn’t just accept me for my eccentricities, but also encouraged them to shine. Thank you for being the best dance partners and for always making me laugh.

Your admiration of intelligence and creativity has inspired me to always work hard. We have all excelled in our own rights and prioritized our responsibilities as students, while always putting relationships first and balancing the perfect amount of work and fun. You have taught me to grind through the long hours, think beyond textbook material and be diligent. You have instilled in me ambition without the need to bring others down, but instead to value others as part of the team, the team, the team. Thank you for believing that being smart is cool, being different is even cooler and being kind is a necessity.

Most importantly, you have been there for me in my lowest points — when I was stressed about career choices, grades or life in general. You reminded me that everything was going to be OK, and time and time again it always is. We experienced each other’s worst moments and helped each other through our mistakes. You were my coach, and motivated me through the toughest of times out of pure love.

Thank you for never giving up on me whenever I gave up on myself.

Because of all of you, I learned for the first time to enjoy life as it comes. I have become a better family member, colleague, stranger, friend and human being overall by learning from you. The compassion you have shown has filled me with an energy to only do good things in the world. I hope you know that even if we don’t touch base often, I am forever appreciative of you. The love you have given me has made me love myself, the person I’ve become in college and who I will grow to be in the future.

I think that’s what makes this place so special. It reminds me of a conversation I had with friends at the end of sophomore year about how extraordinary this place is. On this particular day, we had been sitting on the steps of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, enjoying a rare warm day with what felt like the entire population of Ann Arbor. Some students were playing frisbee outside, others were running late to their next class. The commotion of student life happening all around us, through the stunning campus buildings and quaint State Street stores, created an unparalleled energy. We reflected on moments like this where we look around campus and think how lucky we are to attend the greatest university in the world.

Now, as I’m at the home stretch, I see that it’s the people, and our belief that the success of another student on campus is a shared success, that make this place extraordinary. I mean, my friends cared so much that they would wake up early just to call and make sure I got up for morning exams. We’re bonded by this culture and experience that is like no other. This place is straight magic.

Michigan, you are my first and greatest love. Thank you for giving me the chance to meet these friends who have forever changed me.

This University is a classic Midwestern school and is known for being amazing at sports, but it’s more than just that. Besides the archaic private school labels and beyond the sports, it’s a place where people excel in every field and interest imaginable, while also growing to be genuinely good human beings. It’s a place of possibilities, and it’s a place that has given me more happiness than I’ve ever known. I got to spend four full years surrounded by endless opportunities and remarkable people. I now have a lifetime to think back on these memories, and strive to make more that could instill as much joy.   

Go 18-year-old me for choosing the University of Michigan without even visiting. You knew what you were doing when you chose this school because you heard the people were good. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving me this life-changing opportunity, and Michigan for being the best decision I ever made. How fortunate I am to call myself a Michigan Wolverine. How blessed I am that no matter where I go, the adage is true — this campus and the people in it will always be my home.

And of all the beautiful cities I’ve seen, this is still my favorite place in the world.

How lucky I am.

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