When someone asks me where I’m from, I usually answer like this,
“Well, I just moved here from Tallahassee, FL; but I’m originally from Richmond, VA; and I work in Washington DC, so I go up there a lot, too.”
I’ve learned this kind of answer is very normal in academia. In fact, I met someone last week who met me word for word. She responded with, “Oh, I love Tallahassee! I grew up in Jacksonville, FL. And I went to college in DC. And, yep, I lived in Richmond for a bit before I was in Texas.” And, by the way, she just moved here (to Boone, NC) from Cleveland.
I try to keep it simple, but it occurred to me this weekend, that my little spiel is missing the place that feels most like home to me: Harrisonburg, VA. Specifically, the James Madison University community.
I’ve said it before, but going to college at JMU changed me in the best ways. It taught me how to approach unfamiliarity with an open-mind and an open-heart. It taught me how to think critically about things I’d previously accepted as true or right or wrong. It made empathize deeply with people and situations that I’d never really been exposed to.
Because of my time at JMU, I developed a love for student affairs and interpersonal communication. I learned about the world through the lens of my anthropology classes and feminist rhetoric classes. I joined the fencing club and took a self-defense class. I developed professional skills and people skills that ultimately led me to my career. I took on seemingly impossible challenges working in residence life, I learned about the non-academic inter-workings of the university while working in conference services, and I got my first taste of a professional role working on a publication for the orientation office. This university and the people invested in it shaped me into a stronger, more inquisitive, and more compassionate person. I’m immensely grateful, and I want to give back to JMU in every way I can. That’s why I always say YES to an opportunity to donate, to speak, or to join an alumni committee.
My JMU friends keep doing impressive things: moving across the country, taking on awesome careers, and starting their own businesses. Some of my favorite alums, though, have migrated back to Harrisonburg for work or grad school to live and work and thrive in that place that made us. I love the idea of returning “home” to JMU after living in other places. On Saturday, Bret and I drove up to see some friends who are hoping to do just that.
While the boys played frisbee on Saturday morning, I was planning to grab coffee with one of my friends – Adrienne – who moved back to Harrisonburg about a year ago. You can imagine my surprise when instead of my friend, I walked into the coffee shop and saw two of the most wonderful former supervisors/mentors/amazing people there waiting for me. You see, Adrienne was sick. Instead of calling me to cancel, she arranged for these amazing individuals to meet me there instead. Who thinks to do that? Amazing JMU people, that’s who. I love the friends I made at JMU, but I owe everything to the mentors who influenced me there. Getting to catch up with them was wonderful. It made me want to come back for another visit soon.
After coffee, I went to Earth and Tea cafe with one of my best friends and JMU alums. I love her. It was magical and, gosh, my cup was so full after our catch up date. Then we visited the kittens that are up for adoption at Cat’s Cradle. I couldn’t adopt a kitten, but I made a donation. Then we frolicked downtown. Then we went wine tasting at the vineyard where I got married. Then we had ice cream at Klein’s. And then we walked around campus at night.
I pointed out all the magical JMU secret things that not everyone knows about.
Naturally I had to take a selfie with my favorite statue.
In the morning we went for a run (I am training for a half-marathon after all) and I was just in awe of how much my little town is growing up.
The park connects to the apartment complex where my friends used to live. I was just running along the path and I didn’t know where we were going to end up. It was a weird feeling being back there without them. Knowing four or five cycles of students have probably moved in and out since then felt extra weird. But, what can you do? Time moves us forward.
That’s all for now, I guess. I just love Harrisonburg so much, and I promise not to leave you out of my “where are you from?” reply anymore. I lived in Harrisonburg for 6 years… 6 hugely developmental years. I always brag about living alone in DC, but I actually lived alone in Harrisonburg first. It was only for about 3 months, but those were some influential 3 months.
I love you, JMU. You will always a huge part of me.