Senior Column: Being uprooted leads to new beginnings

Leaving home can be a sea of unknowns, but there’s always the opportunity to make the best of a new environment.

Contributed

Contributed

Andy Mitchell, Digital Producer


Four years ago, I spent my last days in a dying high school with a constant dull pang in my stomach, constantly overwhelming the elation that comes with graduation. My class had less than 100 students and my whole school had around 300.

For a lot of K-12 Catholic schools, a low triple-digit student body is par for the course. When you’re raised Catholic with parents heavily involved in the local parish and connections through the entire diocese and metropolitan region where you’ve spent your entire life, you feel like everyone knows your name.

That was my life for 18 years, and things were about to change — not by the cold hand of tragedy, thankfully, but by the circumstances of life, where one chooses to leave their nest and their entire habitat.

I could have picked a number of schools in my home state of Missouri to stay anchored to warm, familiar faces. My brother, from whom I’ve been apart for more than a day less than a handful of times, picked Mizzou, located a two-hour drive away from our homestead. Most of my friends picked Truman State, a smaller school in the small town of Kirksville, Missouri, an afternoon’s trek away.

I picked the University of Iowa, six hours away from the place I called home. I traded the boot hills for the corn fields in the interest of getting a writer’s education.

I skittishly stepped into Iowa City with no friends, no family, no familiar faces. No one here knew my parents or grandparents and could tell me what I was like when I was knee-height. After one last dinner with my mom and dad, probably at a Culver’s, I watched them drive away and I knew I had to plant my flag and dig it in deep, or else I would go crazy from home sickness.

Life can be like a gardener — it can pluck you from the safe, familiar soils, and place you where you need to be, no matter how strange and alien that place may be. Your roots can take hold, or you can be swept away to the next patch of earth until you find your home.

It took a lot of trial and error over the course of a year until I found a spot where my roots could dig in deep. One August day after my freshman year, I applied to The Daily Iowan. I had no prior experience in journalistic writing, so I was surprised when I was invited to orientation. When my sophomore year began, I was a news reporter for the best paper in the state.

Although Iowa City and Johnson County don’t hold a candle to metropolitan areas such as Chicago or even my home of Kansas City, Missouri in terms of size, to a mere traveler and untrained eye it can be just as daunting.

To the experienced reporter or activist or even a half-awake resident, it’s just as dynamic and intricate as a megalopolis. As a reporter, I was able to immerse myself in this world of college students, farmers, workers, scientists, and a number of colorful characters who call this place their home.

Being knee-deep in the rich ecosystem of a college town was my antidote to the sickness of being so far from everyone I ever knew. I gave my time and energy to work alongside, collaborate with, and build relationships with extraordinary young journalists and writers who I’m proud to call my friends. I’m not ready to miss them and have my heart ache to see them again.

A student newspaper is just one way to dig into a new community, or even a community you’ve been raised in. In a college town, there are plenty of ways to skin the cat of loneliness.

As the days get warmer, I’ve been visiting the parks and lakes of Johnson County that I’ve neglected for most of my time here. I can see the water of the lakes and river flow freely and the once barren, dormant trees are sprouting leaves of yellow and green. Although the coming of spring is a wonderful occasion, allergies and the pandemic aside, I can’t help but feel the same discomfort in my stomach as I felt four years ago.

I spent all this time making Iowa City my home, and when graduation looms, I see that my days here are numbered. Just as soon as I finished saying hello, the hand of life is close to plucking me from the dirt once more, and this time my ultimate destination is more of a mystery than ever. It’s a tale as old as time that has been told countless times before and will continue to be told countless times more.

Amid all the good memories, I’ll hold close the lessons of phantom pains of stress and the wealth of new experiences. These lessons are ones that I hope all people can learn, whether they’ve moved far from home in the company of friends, or by themselves, or if they’ve moved from one side of the world to the other. Being uprooted is not the end.

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