I grew up in the eastern plains of Colorado, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains in the booming Metropolis of Peyton. Population: 250, where there were more longhorns than people. We didn’t have a stoplight or a gas station, but we had plenty of dirt roads and a bar appropriately titled “The Saloon” in faded, blocky letters. Every girl who ever visited thought I lived in the boonies (I did, but in my defense, the nearest Walmart was only a 15-minute drive and Colorado Springs and all its urban treasures—movie theaters and malls and skate parks—was a consistent 35 minute drive.)
When I chose Lawrence, I came with the expectation that it would be everything that my hometown wasn’t. It had a staggering student population of nearly 1,500 students; my high school was merely in the hundreds. I would no longer have to drive for hours to take a girl on a date, go to the gym or see a movie. Everything I would ever need was within walking or biking distance, and I would finally be at a place where I didn’t know every face from childhood. It was, in short, an adventure into a life I hadn’t gotten the chance to live yet.
College is, for many, the first experience of real independence and adulthood. To me, there was a great appeal in not only leaving home, but in going as far away as possible to go to school. I wanted to not only be independent, but to engulf myself in a new environment. I wanted to find out who I was, away from where I became who I am. In fact, in some ways, when picking a school, this was some sort of moral rule, an implication that ruled my decisions. It’s cheating to be close enough to go home on the weekends; it robs the opportunity to get lost, engrossed in an entirely unknown place, even a place as humble as central Wisconsin. Staying close to home, in many ways, felt like it was only going halfway. Going halfway, committing halfway, was seemingly beneath the experience of getting to test myself, form new beliefs and experience new ways of life and ideologies. Lawrence was a moral decision as much as it was a personal one.
Lawrence proved to be much different from my expectations. It proved to be as small as advertised. Many faces became familiar in passing within weeks, and it seemed like there were as many dairy cows as people. It wasn’t the great urban adventure I thought it was, and while the 1,500 students of Appleton are much more than the meager 200 at Peyton High School, 1,500 has proved to be much smaller than it felt. In a lot of ways, Lawrence has felt like home. But in many more ways, it hasn’t. It’s proved to be a challenge, examining my own thought patterns and exposing me to new ideologies that my conservative, rather isolated, hometown never taught me. In short, it wasn’t what I expected, and came with a sharp learning curve.
Lawrence hasn’t been what I expected, but that is not the whole point. It takes bold decisions, stepping out of comfort zones and not squandering the resources and ability of higher education to do so. The ability to make bold decisions with minimal consequences is rare, but choosing a school to go to is a one of those decisions where fleeing for the other side of the country isn’t such a bad decision to make.