The last chapter

“I mean, I wouldn’t want to go to FMU. It’s too close to home.”

I heard that and similar comments countless times when I was in high school. So, when people peppered me with questions about my future, I was reluctant to tell them where my acceptance letter came from.

The week before class, I cried every night, and if you know me, you know that my tear ducts don’t work very well. I was scared – scared that FMU would hold few opportunities, that college would be too difficult and that relationships would be a familiar territory of fragile trust.

Four years later, I’ve discovered that each of my fears was ill-founded, and the little school in the middle of nowhere S.C. is special to me. From day one at FMU, I walked into a unique culture of care that showed me what it means to nurture creativity, explore possibilities and fail but get right back up and try again.

The faculty wanted me to come to their offices to ask questions, discuss career paths, analyze the latest breaking news or scroll through pictures of pets. To each and every one of my professors, thank you. Thank you for pinning my “Patriot” pieces to your corkboards, urging me to tutor in the Writing Center, helping me find communication internships, pushing me to take those extra Spanish classes to grab a double major and meticulously reading my honors thesis.

It’s true. At FMU you’re not just a number; you’re a name. That reality brings with it an opportunity for people to quickly identify your strengths… and your weaknesses.

I am grateful for not only the times when professors boosted my confidence in my passion for language and communication but also the times when my press releases contained red marks in every paragraph and when the Spanish words for “study more” were spoken.

To me, FMU is the place where I fell in love with learning. I never intended to double major or complete the honors program. But, the longer I stayed, the more I actually wanted to do these things.

Growing up, my competitive drive led me to a bitter realm of comparison in grades, athletics, music, anything. This sucked the joy out of learning and created tension in friendships. Usually, I didn’t want to try anything that I knew I couldn’t succeed at, and, once I did, I didn’t want to draw attention to it. If you’re good at something, people think you’re an overachiever and search for your kryptonite.

Don’t share grades. Don’t brainstorm out loud. Don’t let anyone close enough to see the messy sides of your life. Bingo. That should work.

Nada. It’s a lonely life.

While it’s wise to be discerning and learn what you can share with whom, part of loving others and being loved means vulnerability.

During college, I’ve met some of my closest friends. We’ve argued about big ideas, brainstormed about the future, giggled during silly mistakes and shared countless cups of coffee and pies of pizza. We’ve seen the messy bits of life together, and we’re still friends. Thank you.

My willingness to open up when the timing is right has grown. The surface-level “How are yous?” followed by white lies of “Fine” are slim on campus. It’s freeing to finally balance healthy competition with the joy of empowering others, being genuinely excited about what is happening in their lives and willingly receiving the gift of friendship when feeling broken.

Today, people are again peppering me with questions about my future. While the answer isn’t solidified (a reality that freaks out this type-A planner), I have confidence. I’ve gained skills, made memories and fine-tuned my end goals. But, most importantly to this Pee Dee native, I know that whether I stay in Florence or move, I won’t be running away from something. I’ll be running to something.