The window that, until recently, was supplying a nice, cool breeze is now turning into a source of brain freeze — as the sun begins to sink and turn the outdoors a dark orange, the temperature is dropping rapidly. As dusk emerges, I close the window and turn on the lights.

It seems impossible to do justice to the task at hand, recalling the happiest memories from the happiest time of my life — my years as a Wolverine. Recalling the sad memories is easy because they are few and far apart. But by what criterion am I to distinguish amongst the golden moments that collectively make up the past three and a half years?

As I begin to rewind the tape, I realize that what has made the difference is the positive impact from all the friendships I’ve made while at the University.

Breaking out of the shell

During my sophomore year, I realized the extent to which living in Baits II housing the previous year — as a non-engineering student — had deprived me of the college experience. I never attended a football game, I never went to parties, I hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol and I spent most of my Friday nights writing essays.

The transition started with John Hurlahe, a charismatic kid from Frankenmuth, Mich., — a town I was only aware of thanks to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store. We had begun studying together for our economics classes, and it seemed that by October, there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t see John for lunch or dinner.

And soon it wasn’t just John, it was also Ryan Kartje, John’s neighbor, hailing from the little town of Milan, Mich. It was Alex O’Dell, John’s roommate, whose mind was in a constant state of creative stream of consciousness. It was Orfeh Vahabzadeh, Alex’s girlfriend, simultaneously brilliant and hilarious. It was the entire Frankenmuth gang, along with a light sprinkling of natives from my hometown of Troy who had also been engulfed by the group’s magnetism.

By December, I had attended several concerts. I made the horrible choice of going to one while wearing a ridiculous turtle-neck — shoot me now and forgive me later. I also had my first drink. “Yup, I can definitely feel it!” I exclaimed in all my pathetic “lightweightness” after several sips of a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I finally bought football season tickets and expanded my social circle at an unprecedented rate.

They say that you don’t realize what you have until it’s no longer there. But my sophomore year was the exact opposite — I didn’t realize what I had missed until good ol’ John and his gang danced their way into my life, adding color wherever black and white had been the rule.

Branching out

By junior year two new social spheres emerged: my fellow incoming classmates at the Ford School of Public Policy, and my resident advisors, community assistants and ResStaff colleagues in Stockwell Hall.

The Ford School crew — a driven community of scholars who will be doing great things in high places while I will likely still be finishing my dissertation — provided constant intellectual stimuli. My Stockwell friends — a group of socially aware and service-minded individuals who’ll offer you support when you most need it — challenged me to embrace social justice and to challenge the status quo.

And so it was that by the time my junior year was over, I felt like I had changed more in three years than I had over my entire lifetime prior to coming to the University.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great relationships I’ve had with my professors. I was lucky enough to get to know some brilliant scholars who cared deeply about their students and their individual interests. I attended conferences with them, chatted with them about life over coffee and received invaluable advice from them regarding graduate school. It goes without saying that it’s because I respect my professors that I’m pursuing a career path in academia.

The final statement

Despite my decision to attend the University because of its academic prestige, my Michigan years have been defined by positive relationships. The friends I’ve made here have been an unwavering source of support and have constantly challenged me to become a better person.

To my Michigan family, thank you for shining happiness into my life. I hope, in my own way, that I have held up a mirror and reflected some of it back.

Tommaso Pavone can be reached at

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