I've been drafting and re-drafting this post for a long time, and this evening, my mother sent me this article by April Moore Skelton, who literally (no, I mean literally) put into words the feelings I’ve been trying to piece together since Athens first stole my heart.
When I went to college, I didn’t fall in love with my husband-to-be (although that might’ve been nice I suppose). I fell in love with a town.
“My Dear Athens,” Skelton says. “The first time I drove my car down Boulevard, I knew. You were more to me than a good time. You were the one.”
That’s how I felt– and still feel. Athens is The One.
Growing up in the suburbs, I never really absorbed the fact that chain restaurants kind of suck or that towns with lovely people who honestly cared about one another actually existed. Athens changed all of that.
My life in Athens during college did something beautiful to me. It shook me by the shoulders and said “Look! Here are your people! Here is your tribe! This place gets you!”
When I first moved into my freshman dorm, I remember very clearly thinking: Oh my god. I have to spend four years at this school.
Now, looking back, I think: Oh my god, college was only four years.
I think maybe what makes Athens so magical are its people. It’s a town gone beautifully mad with creativity and spirit. Five years ago, I never would have imagined the dear friends and mentors I would meet there. I made some of the best friends of my life. I met people who genuinely cared about things and weren’t afraid to get excited about them–and who weren’t afraid to be a little weird.
And I don’t believe that my experience in Athens can be downgraded to “college years” or “just a phase.” Because, like Skelton put it, Athens is so much more than a good time.
I’ve now graduated and left Athens, like so many others. It’s an exciting time in my life. I’m exploring a new city to love. I’m having fun. I’m passionate about my work and I'm in a very good place.
But sometimes, like today, I miss the local coffee shop where I’d spend Saturday afternoons gulping lattes, people-watching and poring over class notes. I'll miss the tingly feeling in the air on the first day of classes. I’ll miss the local business and creatives who made my little town so magical. I'll miss inhaling tortilla chips and tacos with my roommates at our favorite Mexican place. I’ll miss living with my best friends.
It’s Athens where I had the chance to explore what made me happy, what I wanted to contribute to the world and what kind of person I wanted to become. Now, I’ve reached the go-out-and-become part.
Not having my Athens tribe a hop-skip-and-a-jump away feels like I've lost a limb: I know something important should be there, but whenever I reflexively fall back on it, I realize with a sad shock that it's gone.
I know that the years following college will only bring me more dear people, places and moments to treasure, but I also know that these past four years brought me the most beloved friendships and significant personal growth of my life. Thank you, Athens.