Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst is the world

A love letter to my hometown and the beautiful people I have met at the Collegian
Courtesy of Grace Lee

How does one sum up the last 21 years? How do I explain what my home means to me in only so many words? Maybe I can’t. All I know is Amherst has been my world for the past two decades and a final curtain is about to descend. My time here as a young person will soon be over, and maybe there isn’t some epiphany to be had, or some great discovery to happen upon, or one optimal version of myself to declare I’ve become. Maybe there’s some magic to be felt at the point of half-knowing.

The best I can do — the best anyone can do — is to never stop trying to explain.

In 2021, I decided to transfer back to my hometown university after spending my freshman year at a small college in Rhode Island. I was out of money and the pandemic made me turn further inward on my loneliness. The University of Massachusetts seemed like the only chance for a stable and quality education without having to tear out and sell my organs to pay for it. I was reluctant to make the switch because my life in Amherst had been quite tumultuous, and I thought moving back meant regression. I soon realized I couldn’t get through the next three years by just keeping my head down, I had to work hard to rediscover the meaning of community and unearth love for my hometown, which I thought had been buried. I am grateful to the UMass Journalism Department and the Massachusetts Daily Collegian because through these channels, I found my life’s craft. By making space for others’ voices, I gained the tools to be kind, empathetic and hopeful. Finding journalism and reporting on the problems and events close to the people of Amherst has helped me unearth some truth.

Still, it’s hard to characterize a place I am so familiar with. In my junior year, when I traveled outside of the country for the first time to study in Ireland, it was impossible to not notice every detail. I was incredibly overwhelmed with all the sights and landmarks; even gum on the sidewalk or the most rundown pub was exciting because it was shiny and new. I don’t notice every detail when I’m in Amherst, but I miss it when I’m gone, and when I take my regular drives, or walk to get coffee at my favorite spots, or go on nature walks, or see the people I love, it feels just like breathing: a subconscious act, but it’s what sustains me.


To my Collegian buddies

Student journalism is incredibly valuable, and that’s only been proven by the recent college protests around the country, with major news outlets relying on student newsrooms for information. I am proud of the reporting my news team and I produced here. And I’ve met some incredible people the last three years who deserve an explanation of my appreciation:

Mahi — my fellow yapper and always the first person to rationalize my delusions — most people pursuing a STEM degree abandon their passions and hobbies to focus on the intense course load. But your dedication at the Collegian should be a reminder to us all to create space and time to pursue the things we love, and to educate ourselves on social justice issues, those both near and far, for the sake of preserving our humanity and expanding our empathy.

Olivia, you are one of the hardest working people I know. Every morning you have to wake up and hold your own, be independent, proactive and brave, and you have done it beautifully. I am in constant amazement at your work ethic, but more importantly, I am in awe of your kindness. The world can be tough on strong women, but I know you are capable of getting through the hardships and taking yourself far.

To Jack, thank you for leading the news team this year. I’m excited to see what you do next. To Abby and Daniel, I know you’ll do great things next year, continue working hard!

To Alex, who got me to join the Collegian, I owe all my bylines to you. Thank you for being a great first editor. And to my other wonderful friends Katie Katz, Kami, Nathan, Kate and all my incredible beat writers, you guys are the absolute best. Thank you for filling my days with light!

College, and all of you, have taught me how important it is to weave networks of kindness to survive the harsh realities that await us.


Parting words

It’s hard to feel like this chapter of my life ending isn’t a kind of death. I am grieving like it is, and a certain stillness, that can only be felt in the expected absence of something major, has washed over my final days here.

For consolation I climbed Mt. Skinner, a place I used to go with my father when I was a young child. He would tell me stories about the history of the white house which sits atop the wooded hill. He would lead me towards the end of the porch off the house to look over the cliff. He would point at the tiny foggy rectangles in the far distance, and name different cities. You can see the whole valley from that vantage point. But I was little and had no perspective. Everything beyond me was just elsewhere: a distant fantasy.

At 21, the landscape does not seem so expansive anymore; I now know it like the lines on the palm of my hand. Every corner of this valley has left its imprint on me. Of course, there is always more to be seen, but I have taken all I can from this town, and I am grateful for the journey and the irreplaceable gifts. Tiny me would think the life I have now to be unimaginable. But I grew, I imagined, I worked hard and now it is real and the memories I made here are all mine to keep — until my memory goes and the history I have accumulated again becomes distant stories to someone and points in a vague timeline.

As I look out on this place I call home, I try to think of other beautiful places I have seen; I’m sure I have, but nothing comes to mind. This is it. The greenness, the ever-changing harvesting fields, the tiny houses, the strip malls, campus in the slim minutes before night, the brick buildings downtown and narrow roads are the most beautiful because I know them. I do not know myself if I don’t know Amherst. As I look out over the cliff, I recall sweet moments and I feel a love so tight it forms a lump in my throat. I don’t love this valley because I feel as if I belong here or because I found purpose here, or because it witnessed my evolution. Although all of that is true and contributes to the tenderness, the love I feel more is wild and unruly for no distinct reason at all. I am protective of this place, like a grown child is of their own mother. I love it because I got to exist and be alive here, through all the changes and the steadiness; that alone was enough.

In this instant of revelation, I start to cry. Not precisely because I am leaving but rather because I felt a deep and profound admiration for the years past. I felt it so intrinsically like a tingling in my bloodstream: it could not be ignored. With my sights set on the expansiveness beyond, there’s nothing more I can say, other than: I love you, I love you, I love you.


 Grace Lee was an Assistant News Editor and Assistant Socials Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].

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