Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: The College Experience

**Note from the author- This is the longest story in the series, and I still left out a lot of detail in this one (not all things or drunken stories are ready to be told, just yet). College was a time where I experienced a lot, more than the average individual I would say. It was during those years I discovered who I was and finally began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Not everyone has the same opportunity or experience with college, but that’s sort of how life is in a broader sense anyway isn’t it? No individual lives life the same exact way. I am who I am today because of every decision I have made along the way. Also because of the people who have come into my life and influenced it in even the tiniest of ways. Everything happens for a reason, and that’s the basis of this story.

By- Traci Taylor
January 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

College is an important part in life for numerous reasons and I’m not counting the thousands of dollars of debt that’s more or less guaranteed to accumulate while attending. I have more positive reasons in mind than that. My college experience put me completely out of my comfort zone, out of the closet, gave me lifelong friendships, and broadened the way I thought.

Receiving a diploma is a fantastic feeling, but really it was all the events and stepping stones along the way that made me appreciate my higher education. There were struggles, doubts, and lots of drunken nights. I never thought I’d have to pull countless all nighters with Shakespeare or be sitting on my ex’s front porch in the middle of winter drunk off tequila realizing I’ve been in the closet for 21 years. That’s just a glimpse into the journey of how well (or not so well) college treated me. Every story starts somewhere, and for me it was an unexpected one.

In my senior year of high school I had a few offers from colleges to continue to pursue my position as a lacrosse goalie. The only problem was that I slacked off in high school and my grades were too shitty to let me actually accomplish anything right away so I ended up in community college. I’m not saying I would have gone very far in lacrosse, but if I decided to get my shit together instead of worry about pointless teenage things who knows where I’d be now (I’d be exactly where I am, but my advice is to not let high school crap consume you).

The time that I spent at ACCC I learned a few valuable lessons. I was lucky enough to have an extraordinary communications professor who was also my adviser for those two years. She is the main reason I can develop and deliver a spectacular speech with what appears to be flawless confidence. For that reason and others I disagree with a lot of the community college stigma that exists. With a couple of exceptions with professors I went on to have, she was by far the most passionate professor in my experience of being a college student.

After two years in community college I made the decision to transfer out to a University. My first choice was a school right outside of New York City (pipe dream and far too pricey). I ended up going to Millersville University (smack dab in the middle of Amish country) and the reason I ended up there is exactly why I believe everything happens for a reason. If in the end the school of your dreams doesn’t end up being a reality, just turn your reality into your dream.

I remember struggling to adjust to the school and not knowing anyone in a place where everyone knew everybody else from high school. One of the definite down falls of going to a college in a small town. Not to mention I was technically in my third year and transferring to a new school where everyone in my age group already had established their friends.

Getting adjusted wasn’t easy, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t the “join clubs to meet people” type of person either (I was and still very much am a loner). Lifelong friends don’t happen within the first week that usually ends up occurring within a blink of an eye without any conscious realization that these people may remain in your life for a long time. Looking back I did actually meet one of my lifelong friends within the first week, and she introduced me to every other person from Millersville that ended up becoming more like family than anything else. However, that part of the journey doesn’t happen until a couple of years later on when my closet is filled with button ups, Van shoes, and beanies galore instead of my super-gay-self buried inside.

It is hard going away to a place where no one knows your name, but you’re too frightened to put yourself out there. My social anxiety was so bad that I barely ate the first few weeks because I was too afraid to venture into the Anchor (one of the dining halls) alone. I took the definition of a loner to the extreme. Within a month that quickly changed.

While still very much in the closet, I was convinced I wanted to find my fellow “hippie boyfriend” with long hair that loved the Grateful Dead as much as I did, that hope quickly became true. A few weeks in to the first semester my roommate introduced me to her friend from back home that lived below us. He played guitar exceptionally well and I soon found myself smitten within a short period of time. All in all he was the first real friend I made at Millersville and through everything he was always kind hearted. Even during the whole, “The real reason we broke up months ago is because I’m gay” text I sent him (not only was I a drunk, but a master at drunken texting).

Alcohol played a gigantic role in my life during college. It was the Meryl Streep of my college career (except not as classy, obviously). Both good and bad days were filled with booze. There didn’t even need to be a reason to drink, in fact most of the time drinking was just a result of boredom. Other than the sleepless nights I spent studying for exams or writing papers, the rest of my cherished memories involve alcohol in some way. I think my friends had it more in check than I did though; after all I was the one going back to a desk filled with water bottles of vodka and wine.

I was going through a struggle that was much bigger than me, and I didn’t even see it developing. I do remember it getting worse through the time period of having to come out to everyone in my life. That’s really when my college years changed, I think I was finally enjoying them the way they were meant to be enjoyed. I was beginning to live life in general the way I was meant to live it. It’s hard to grasp what that’s like unless you’ve gone through a similar inner struggle like that.

It was the start of my second year, second semester at Millersville and it was the beginning of a lot of memories. There are plenty of specific moments I could pinpoint, but overall I just remember on the surface being happier than the months before. I was in the process of coming out, but also embracing every bit of feeling comfortable in my own skin. Most of this time was spent driving to Philly visiting my best friend, getting drunk, and meeting girls. Philly weekends were always a favorite of mine, for more reasons than just getting away from the dorm and campus (let’s just say I know where I was when Whitney Houston died and the death of a diva has never been more memorable for me or my first year of being out of the closet).

The truth is I probably spent more time complaining about my school than I did bragging about it. I was never much for school spirit after I graduated high school, and the only thing I joined in college was the school newspaper for a semester. Classes were hard, papers seemed endless, and even now I still cringe at the mere mention of Shakespeare. I’m not saying I would relive those years again (I don’t think I find that appealing in any sense). I do believe that all of the struggles made me appreciate things more, and it definitely made me grateful I stuck it out for the best year I ended up having at Millersville.

My good friend that lived across the hall from me my first year in Millersville (whom I still refer to as “Meg from across the hall”) is at the core of every story, every punch line, and every friendship. After all she was the drunk who paraded around my dorm room shouting “you’re definitely gay” while my boyfriend at the time stood in the corner like a deer in headlights. College teaches a lot of things: how precious snow days are (or at Millersville, rain days), how to manage time while cramming, how waiting last minute doesn’t always work out, but overall how important the value of forming friendships are. Within six months I gained friends that became family and had the most thrilling semester of my college career.

Throughout life in general friends tend to come and go, that’s just how things seem to work. People change, grow a part, and despite how sad that fact is, it’s the truth. However some friends grow with you and those are the ones that somewhere along the journey transform into family. I still don’t remember the exact moment I met everyone in our group of friends, but I remember how instantly close we all became. Never have I met people so warm and welcoming as the friends I formed that last year at Millersville.

The couch at 1604 quickly became my home away from home and every single one of those guys and girls earned a permanent place in my heart. It’s coming up on two years since I’ve graduated from Millersville, and there are times I even still miss Thursday nights at HoPie. Certain things make me nostalgic for college, but I think that sort of happens to everyone after those years are a thing of the past. What I value about those memories is still being able to reminisce about them with the people I experienced them with. No matter the time spent a part, or the distance between the bonds that were formed years ago haven’t broken. Going away to Millersville I gained more than an education and a degree, I gained a secondary family.

There’s something special about the experience of going away to school and being in a place where no one knows your name. It creates an opportunity of a blank canvas to paint with whatever colors your heart desires. In the moment you aren’t always aware of the beautiful memories you are in the process of making. That appreciation doesn’t come until it’s over and all of those late nights studying or drinking until the sun comes up are things of the past. College is merely one large stepping stone in life filled with a bunch of tiny ones in the four, five, or however many years it may take. Enjoy it, soak it all in, and remember these years are merely the beginning of becoming who you are. Let go of feeling afraid to fail, and paint a portrait of colorful, memorable moments. In the end it’s not about the classes that kicked your ass, it’s about the people that made the years unforgettable.

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