Having grown up in a town of fewer than 4,000 residents, I quickly realized after stepping foot on this campus that I wasn’t exposed to some of the same opportunities growing up as my peers.
It seemed initially that everyone around me was from a big city — somewhere rich in culture and diversity. I began to feel as if I were in an arms race with my peers, not knowing how to reach the finish, and definitely not knowing how to come close to winning. It was intimidating, and there were times in the first few months that I wanted to go back home. Looking back, I see how foolish I was being.
As I continued to get to know other freshmen, my insecurities began to fade. I met people who shared a similar background with me, along with the many who did not. According to the University’s Office of Registrar, 30 percent of students are out-of-state, with representation from all 50 states. Six percent are international, with students hailing from 150 countries.
I stopped looking at the geographical diversity at this University as a cause of personal diffidence, and instead began to appreciate how many people I had to learn from. As cliché as it may sound, some of the most valuable lessons I’ll take from this place were taught by my peers outside of the classroom.
I began to recognize that no one background is “better” than the next, and because of that, I had a renewed sense of appreciation for my small-town upbringing: for what it gave me, and for what it allowed me to share with the people around me.
I recently started following Huffington Post’s Love Letters project — a series of letters written by those who have something to say about the place that means the most to them. For many, it’s the place they call “home.” You can find love letters written to some of the world’s most beautiful and desired destinations — London, Paris, New York City, New Orleans and Hong Kong, for instance.
But where’s the love for the small towns? Cities with populations in the thousands, even hundreds, seemed to be barely a blip on the project’s map. Thus, my ode to small towns everywhere:
Dear Small Town,
I’m sorry for having left you. It wasn’t you; it was me. I’ll forever be grateful for the years we spent together, but our time had run its course. Even so, my gratitude is still very much alive for you, small town. I hope you understand.
I came to know you well, small town — so well that I could navigate your contours with my eyes closed. I appreciated that familiarity. You were predictable, but I was OK with that. In fact, it’s one of the qualities I still love most about you.
I loved our traditions, my favorite being Fridays in autumn. I remember the excitement that would hit me as soon as I woke up. Once 7 p.m. rolled around, it was the same excitement that made its way to the football field that was home to most for a few hours on those Friday nights. Those memories are some of my most cherished.
I could tell you, small town, that running errands in my new place is a lot quicker now. When I was with you, grocery shopping took so long. With you, I had to stop and have a conversation with everyone I knew, which was essentially everyone I saw. I could also tell you that I miss that.
I remember saying goodbye to you on that August night, sitting in the top row of the stands. There were no players on the field that time, and the rows below me were empty. I was scared. I didn’t think I wanted to leave you, small town. You were safe. Some might think you held my hand too much, but I don’t agree. You gave me support and comfort. You gave me the friends I’ll always come back to, and the families that became my second. You gave me a solid foundation to build on.
Since leaving you, I’ve learned that “home” is a word that’s interchangeable. They say home is where the heart is, and that’s why you’ll always have a piece of mine, small town. But I hope you can understand that pieces of my heart will be left elsewhere, too. Starting here in Ann Arbor, my second place to call home.
Sara Morosi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org