A love letter to my ex-college on my graduation day.
Dear Ohio University,
I will never be able to express my adoration for you. The brick streets, the spring block parties, the wonderful hot drinks at Donkey Coffee and alcoholic drinks at The Smiling Skull Saloon, the awesome journalism school...
Ah, the journalism school.
For years, all I ever wanted was to go to this school and be an amazing writer. The kind of writer who worked for the Washington Post and won Pulitzer Prizes and gave commentary on respected news shows and who interviewed the President of the United States and who told honest stories for those who did not have a voice. I wanted to be Diane Sawyer or Hebah Abdalla or Christiane Amanpour or Camille Lepage or any number of international female journalists. But, things changed. I took a visual communication class and realized that suppressing my dreams of being a photographer had not worked. I decided to double major in Photojournalism and News and Information Journalism. I tried so hard to make it work, but I think I knew deep down that it was never meant to happen.
At the end of my freshman year, I had made a name for myself through a freelance project I had done on the OU Fest season and I had been shooting sports for WOUB Public Media for two semesters. I loved what I was doing, but I put my education on the back burner. I left OU for the next year and stayed at home while I tried to put my life back together.
I came back to the college after a year's hiatus and only majored in photojournalism. I learned so much in that year, thanks to the likes of Bill Schneider and Marcy Nighswander. (I will never be able to express my gratitude to them, as they taught me the fundamentals of excellent storytelling, and began molding me into the photographer that I am today.) I tried to love school. I loved photography, and I loved my friends, and I loved finally being three floors away from my boyfriend. But it still wasn't right. I tried to tell myself that it was, and I would love college, and it would be the best four years of my life. Deep down, I knew that wasn't true. My older sister and brother-in-law went to OU and absolutely adored it and had a great college experience. My father was an OU alum. We had framed photos of campus hanging in our house for as long as I could remember. I tried to love it. I really did.
This winter, I decided to leave Ohio University indefinitely. I kept trying to love something that I never would. I enjoyed parts of it, and I liked it in theory, but it wasn't the right place for me. I made the decision to educate myself through other means such as workshops - I attended my first one with Eastlyn Bright + Josh Tolle and Nicola Harger a few weeks ago - and leave the college experience behind. For my mental health, for educational purposes, for bettering my small business, I'm happy to say I made the right choice.
I have a few things to say, though, to my college. The first town I fell in love with, and the one that still holds pieces of my heart although I will never be an alumnus. The first place I felt truly surrounded by my peers. The place I met the man I am going to marry next year. The place that I will always be grateful for.
- Ohio University, you gave me my first group of good friends at college. To those freshman year friends, thank you. You incorporated me into your little group and although everyone has gone in very different directions, I am so grateful for the short time we spent together. BobTog Christmas in James Hall was spectacular, and it was the first time I felt like I had really found my people at school. Lying on the floor watching Moulin Rouge with the girls is a memory I will always treasure. Shooting #12Fest with Calvin will always be one of the most intense bonding experiences I think I'll ever have (holy mud pits). Carl, thank you for being my friend four years on. Actually, thank you all. You were my friends, and I am eternally grateful for our group chats and USD family dinners. I miss you all, and wish you the best of luck.
- Ohio University, you gave me an incredible friend. To my best friend freshman year, I want to thank you separately. I went to college not knowing a soul, besides my roommates, and when you sat next to me at orientation, I knew I'd have a friend for a long time to come. Our relationship was often rocky and difficult and complicated. However, at a time in my life when I needed a friend, you were the best person for the job. I am so grateful for you. Although we no longer talk, I am so proud of how well you have done in the past few years and I know your success won't end with graduation. Congratulations, and thank you for being the person I needed.
- Ohio University, you introduced me to Jake Lambert, and in one year from now, he'll be my husband. To the man I'm marrying, I am so blessed to have found you that first night at college. You sang Lou Bega and you had my heart right then and there. It took a while for us to come together but once we did, I knew you were the one. Through leaving school and coming back again and then leaving again for good, your support has never wavered. What started with what can only be described as fate, I heard you sing and nine months later we met for meatball subs in the rain. In exactly 406 days, I'll walk down the aisle to you. Seriously, OU, thank you. (And kids, go to the Bobcat Bash on your first night of college. You just might be your soulmate.) This thank you also deserves a shoutout to the Air Force ROTC Detachment 650. That group of men and women embraced me, hired me, and provided so many wonderful friendships and relationships. You opened the door to avenues I could have never imagined, and I'm so excited to pursue those opportunities as Jake and I move in a year to wherever the military needs him. All because of a dumb karaoke song. Life is crazy, friends.
- Ohio University, you taught me how to be truly phenomenal photographer. My freshman year, my friends and I travelled to hear Ami Vitale speak about photojournalism in Columbus. I sat in a class where twice a week, a group of my peers and an incredibly talented professor critiqued my work and stripped my photos to the bones. I drank whiskey neats with friends and talked about lighting techniques and emotional storytelling. I met some of my favorite photographers (hello, Jeff Widener) and got to sit down with them to talk about the pitfalls and triumphs of photography. I learned more in my last semester than I ever had before, and to those professors and fellow students, I can't thank you enough. You made me a better photographer.
- Ohio University, you brought me the world's best academic advisor. Stan Alost, I really can't say enough. You took a chance on me. You bet on the underdog. Although I left the program, you never stopped helping me and encouraging me to follow my passions. Thank you.
- Ohio University, you taught me to love a location. Stroud's Run, Court Street, Bong Hill, College Green, Hocking Hills... You will always take my breath away. I still walk onto campus and it takes my breath away. The people of Southeast Ohio are some of the most kind and genuine humans I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. The foothills of Appalachia beckon me home every time I'm within their midst. The brick streets and dirt roads will hold a special place in my heart.
If you haven't guessed, I don't hold many hard feelings against Ohio University. It simply wasn't the place for me, and that is a-okay.
This Saturday, April 29, is commencement day. When I first came to Ohio University in the fall of 2013, I had my graduation date mapped out. You guessed it - it would have been this weekend. Part of me still feels hurt by the fact that I will never walk across that stage and receive my BSVC in Photojournalism from the Scripps College of Communication. The other part of me, though, the larger part, is so glad I left. I have never felt so sure in a decision. Sometimes, no matter how badly you want something to work out, it just never will.
I travel back to Athens about once every month or so to visit my fiancé and each time I drive past the Convo, I get a little flutter in my chest. Ohio University, you sure are beautiful.
Ohio University, you and I were destined for a breakup. It was inevitable. Our relationship was like Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, except I couldn't be the princess - I tried so hard to fit into the mold, but at the end of the day, it was never going to fit. No hard feelings, no tragic breakup playlists on Spotify, no painful goodbyes, no tears. Just a casual separation.
Saturday will present some difficult emotions, I'm sure, but I wouldn't change this outcome for the world. I run my own successful small business, I'm marrying the love of my life and I'm getting ready to move with him on what's sure to be an amazing adventure (what's up, Air Force?).
To all my friends that are graduating in a few days, you're going to do amazing in this big world, and I'm so proud of you all. I'm so glad the shoe fit.
I guess this is where we end it. Things may change, and I may be back (yes, again) at a different time in my life. For now, this chapter has officially come to a close.
I am so grateful for my time with you, OU, and I will treasure those times more than anything. It's time I take a bow and gracefully leave the stage I won't cross this Saturday. And hey - I always liked the open air better than a stuffy gymnasium anyways.
See ya later, Ohio University. Thanks for the memories.
If you are wondering what I'm doing with my life now, or are considering leaving all of your preconceived plans behind to follow your dreams, I'd love to talk to you. I'm still figuring it out, you guys, but this journey is awesome. Don't be afraid to follow your dreams. You can totally do it. I believe in you.