This is me being brave. Laying in the twin-size bed of my college dorm room. I am exactly 1,047 miles away from the place that I have called home for the past 20 years, which is exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. I can tell you now that my journey to Massachusetts was not a simple path. To be honest, it was quite the opposite. There was a lot of questions, doubts, kleenexes, moving boxes and prayers involved, but since I’m here to tell you the story, I guess I can say it wasn’t all so bad.
I never pictured myself moving across the country to go to college in a place far away from anyone/anything I’ve ever known, but I’ve found that sometimes it’s the things that we least expect that are the best teachers. For as long as I can remember, family has been a significant part of my life. My sisters are and have been my best friends since I was in diapers, and going even a week without seeing them was unbearable. My mom has been my strength and support throughout my entire life. She was there to witness my first words, my first dance recital, my first heartbreak and just about everything else. When I struggled with depression and an eating disorder, my family was there to pick me back up, even in my lowest times. Throughout my years of recovery, my family was my support system, reminding me that I was worth it. During the long process of my parents divorce, my family was everything. My mom taught me how to be strong and to push through even the most difficult challenges in order to get what you deserve; my sisters were there as a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on. Through the many trials and tribulations that I have faced, my family has always been there.
So why in the world would I go to Nichols College, on the complete opposite side of the United States just for school? Why would I pack up all of my belongings, get in the car and drive twenty some hours to a school in the middle of a state I had only been to once in my life? There are days that I ask myself the same questions. I can’t tell you how many times I have called my mom, crying my eyes out and begging to come home. Pictures of my family fill up the walls and surfaces of my dorm room, and just about everything around me reminds me of home. The never-ending group message between me and my sisters is constant reminder of just how far away I am from all of my loved ones. So then, why would I do this? As I said before, the answer really isn’t simple at all. It’s taken me months to realize the reason that God has led me here, away from my family, away from the place that I had called home since the moment I was born; it was to teach me to be brave and learn to find happiness within myself.
After driving across the country with my boyfriend Blake to visits schools he had been recruited to for hockey, I had no intentions of looking at schools for myself. As we went from one university to the next, I subconsciously began to picture myself living out on the East coast. Blake reminded me to keep an open mind and that the visits were for me too, but as I nodded my head yes, I told myself no. As we finished the tour at each school, I would pick out all of the things I didn’t like. After four or five visits, I had completely checked out and my boyfriend felt he had finally come to a decision as to where he would be committing for the upcoming fall. As we were on our way to SpringFling at Yale University, Blake decided to stop at one last school. Though I begged him to be done with tours and to stick with the school he had already chosen, he reminded me to keep an open mind, promising ‘this was the last one’. Reluctantly, I agreed to visit the last school, Nichols College.
Unlike any other school that we had visited over the previous week, I instantly fell in love with the feel of the campus and the beauty that surrounded it. As we were taken on our private tour, I started to picture myself on that campus. Overlooking the big bluffs and hills, the school reminded me a little bit of home. It felt different, but it felt right. I applied for the fall semester, figuring that my application would be denied since it was the end of April. I prayed a lot and felt that if I got accepted to Nichols, it was God’s way of telling me that it was where I was supposed to go. A few weeks later, I received a package in the mail, congratulating me on my acceptance for the upcoming school year. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. I had never pictured myself going to school in Massachusetts, but I knew that God was laying his plans out for me in plain sight. Taking a big leap of courage, I turned in my paperwork and made the final commitment to go to Nichols.
Lucky for me, my mom made my decision to come out to school a little bit easier. In the spring of 2015, my mom decided (sort of on a whim) that she was moving to North Carolina. At first I thought no way, she couldn’t just pack up and move; but she did. It was then that I really had to start my goodbyes. I had to say goodbye to my childhood home, the walls that had accompanied me through countless days and memories over the years. I had to say goodbye to my comfy queen size bed and the hundreds of picture frames and drawings all over my bedroom. More importantly, I had to say goodbye to my family. As my mom moved to North Carolina, she took my baby sister and brothers with her. Never in a million years had I ever thought this would happen, but as I watched them drive away in their moving truck, it finally settled in that this was real. They took a little piece of me with them, but as I thought more about the situation, I couldn’t be sad. My mom was finally following her dreams and I saw that if she could do it, then I could do it too. Although this was a difficult transition, I knew it was only the start to an even bigger transition that would be taking place over the next month.
Only a few short weeks later, I was faced with more goodbyes; my sisters, nieces and nephews, and the two little ones/family that I had nannied for over the year and a half before. I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a rollercoaster of emotions, but I knew that there was no turning back. Blake and I loaded up a trailer behind my little Pontiac G6 and started our 23 hour road trip to Massachusetts. When we finally reached Nichols, I was exhausted physically and mentally, but I was excited for what was to come. I definitely got a little sentimental as I unpacked all of my photos and things that had once been placed in my own bedroom back in Minnesota, but I was ready to make this new place my home.
The first few days were fun, but after a while, the ‘fun’ kind of wore off. I started to get homesick; I felt out of place and questioned myself constantly. There were quite a few nights where I cried myself to sleep, and I began to wonder why I had done this to myself. I missed my family. It had only been days, and I was ready to call it quits. Maybe this whole ‘long distance’ thing wasn’t for me. I remember calling my mom one night; I was sitting on the bathroom floor in my dorm, bawling my eyes out. I told my mom how miserable I was, that I wasn’t happy and I wanted to be done. My sweet mother sat on the phone for an hour as I wailed into the speaker, mumbling mixes of words between each deep sob and sniffle. I’ll always remember the words my mom said on the phone that night. “Autumn, listen. You’re not a tree; you don’t have to stay. If you want to move, then move. If you want to get up and go, then go. It’s hard, I know it’s hard; but no matter what you choose to do, just remember that I’m so proud of you for doing this.” At that moment, I thought back to the look on my sister’s and mom’s faces when i told them I was accepted to Nichols. They were so excited, telling me how it was going to be such a great adventure and how proud they were. I had never felt so good in my life, knowing that my family was proud of me and the next step that I would be taking in life. I didn’t want to let them down, but even more importantly, I didn’t want to let myself down.
When I finally got off the phone with my mom, I thought back to the day I made the decision to come to Nichols College in the first place. I had known from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be easy, so why would I quit when I had only just begun my journey? My mom reminded me that night that I had made the decision to come here, but she also reminded me that I had the ability to leave. The only person that could make me stay or make me go was myself. I knew she was right, and I didn’t want to be a quitter. At that moment, I found my biggest weakness. I came to the realization that I had been completely reliant on my family for happiness; I didn’t want face life on my own, but the reality was that I had to. The truth was that I was scared of change, scared of the possibility that things might not go my way, and scared to do “life” by myself. No matter how much I loved my family, I needed to be my own person and make the decision to live life the way I wanted to live it. As I sat on the bathroom floor, I wiped the tears and mascara off my face. I wasn’t going to be weak anymore. I knew that God had given me with these trials because I was strong enough to face them, and I planned to take them on full force.
That semester, I received a 4.0 GPA and was on the Dean’s High Honors list. Like I’ve said multiple times before, it wasn’t simple. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have countless stressful days or tear-filled nights. There were definitely times when I wanted to quit, pack up my stuff and go home; but rather than letting these temporary emotions take over, I overcame them. I got to choose how I was going to react to the difficult days, and I realized that I was in charge of my own success; no one else. That day and each day that comes, I have to choose to make myself a priority in my own life. I have to focus on myself. Whether I choose to stay up that extra hour to study for a mid-term exam, or take an hour long break to facetime my niece and nephew after a stressful day of classes, I get to choose what’s best for me. I had to learn how to create my own happiness, and not rely on others to bring that to me. Lucky for me, I have my boyfriend Blake here to encourage and support me through this journey. I’ve watched as this amazing opportunity has transformed me. My relationship with God has is stronger than ever before, and I know that He has used these big changes in my life to make me the independent woman that I’ve always wanted to be. I could never regret coming out to Nichols College, because I couldn’t ever regret something that I learned some type of lesson from (which, in my opinion, is everything in life). I’ve met incredible people and I’ve grown so much as a student and a person as a whole. Life will always have its challenges, but when times get hard, I just think of it as God’s way of reminding me that I’m even stronger than I think I am. There’s definitely struggles that come with independence, don’t get me wrong; but there’s also a lot of beauty too, and we have to learn to embrace that. Choose to do what’s best for you. Choose happiness. Choose to do something crazy. And choose to take that leap of faith, because you’ll never know what’s on the other side of the door until you take a look for yourself.