My neighborhood has been teeming with new blood for the past two weeks—not with babies but instead with baby-faced college students.
The townhouse we’ll be moving from in two weeks is just blocks from a college campus, and fresh-faced youngsters have descended upon the area like locusts. The electrifying combo of fear and excitement radiates off them like summer’s last heat.
The other day as I walked through the heart of the urban campus on an errand, I couldn’t go more than 20 feet without seeing another newbie in a “class of 2018” t-shirt walking my way. It’s been 23 years—and what seems like many lifetimes ago—since my 17-year-old self moved into a dorm room on another Milwaukee college campus. Somehow walking through campus this week, it felt like only yesterday.
How terrified I was, just a shy small-town girl pining for her boyfriend—I mean fiancé because I naively thought a ring would keep us together. (Fortunately, it didn’t.) I still remember my heart pounding as my parents said their good-byes, leaving me surrounding by my newly constructed loft, a tiny fridge and a black-and-white TV with bunny ears. I don’t recall my roommate’s name, only that her parents were footing the bill for her dorm room while she was actually shacking up with her boyfriend.
Milwaukee was a terrible fit for me back then. Having never moved or been away from home for any extended period of time, I had no clue how to make friends. The urban setting that sounded so cool when I applied soon proved too overwhelming for someone used to living in a town of less than 10,000.
Within three semesters, I had transferred to a smaller school where I had friends from high school. I made new friends, graduated and eventually moved halfway across the country. I never looked back and certainly never planned to come back.
But life has a way of coming full circle. That Milwaukee college campus that didn’t fit me in my youth is less than 2 miles from the house we will own next week. The city that once overwhelmed me now fits like a glove.
I traveled a long way to get back to the place where my life as an adult began. Back then returning to this city would have felt like a failure somehow. Yet now, it feels like the beginning of something new.
When I look at the class of 2018 wondering around, I wonder how far they will go. Will they graduate and never leave this city? Will they take off and never return? Or will they journey far and wide only to eventually come back to the place where they left their childhood selves behind?
Regardless of where they end up, I hope that 20-some years from now when these young adults look back, they can say, “Wow, I’ve sure come a long way.”