A love letter to Amherst

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A love letter to Amherst

Juliette Sandleitner/ Collegian

Juliette Sandleitner/ Collegian

Juliette Sandleitner/ Collegian

Juliette Sandleitner/ Collegian

By Katie McKenna

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The University of Massachusetts Amherst, though always a popular choice among Chelmsford High School seniors, seemed to often elicit a negative reaction among other kids in my graduating class.

When people asked where I was going to college and I answered “UMass,” some would say, “Oh, I applied there, but I didn’t want to go to college with the rest of my high school, you know? I wanted to do my own thing.”

Was this to say that my own college experience wouldn’t be one of independence and new friendships? It was almost like people mutually agreed that anyone who went to UMass only wanted to hang out with kids from their own high school and live the same life they did in Chelmsford. For the most part, I’ve found that not to be the case.

My aunt Laura, a UMass alum, told me the most accurate thing I’ll ever hear about UMass: “It’s as big or small as you want it to be.”

UMass is what we make of it. It doesn’t have one homogenous student population and a university with 20,000 students doesn’t, contrary to popular belief, contain entirely Chelmsford High School graduates. If I want to spend time with my friends from home, that’s a possibility. If I want to spend time with friends I’ve made in college, that’s another possibility. There are endless possibilities in joining clubs and activities, classes, professors, places to live – and the real world is no different.

The world is a big place with unlimited opportunities, and I wanted to go to a school that reflects that.

When I was visiting colleges, I didn’t know what I wanted – a big or a small school, private or public, Massachusetts or elsewhere. I was an 18-year-old who wanted to study journalism. Or maybe English. Or maybe a little bit of both. Or even history.

The one thing I could decide on was that I didn’t want to limit myself, to keep my options open and take in absolutely everything I could.

The small schools tried to convince me that this was a poor choice: “At a big school, you’re really just a number, but here, you mean something.”

In my final year at UMass, I’d like to think that I’ve become more than just a number. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life, tried new foods and studied abroad in Galway, Ireland. I’ve taken classes with a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Congressman, published my own writing and enjoyed lobster on Halloween. UMass has it all, but only if we’ll take it.

If I wandered around for four years in classes I didn’t care about, never said hello to a single face on campus and ventured to all the same buildings, of course I wouldn’t have gotten much out of my college career. If I wanted to talk to only people from my hometown, of course I wouldn’t have made new friends – but I didn’t.

And it wasn’t some amazing feat to make a friend outside Chelmsford at UMass, either. I wanted to, and I did, just like I would on any other college campus. This isn’t to say that I don’t spend any time with friends from home; every day I say hello to four or five people from my town walking around campus.  I’m not sure I’ve even taken a class without someone from Chelmsford being there, but what’s so miserable about that?

To see a familiar face on campus, to always have a way home from school, to have someone that understands where you come from, that knows all of your embarrassing childhood stories, but the cute ones, too: this is what it means to be from Chelmsford at UMass – and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Katie McKenna is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]