The moment you realize you’re graduating and leaving Athens will hit you like a brick wall. It might be while you’re revising your résumé for the 500th time, reading the letter your little wrote you for senior week, or maybe even when you’re standing in the C.I., hugging someone you might never see again. The harsh reality of the impending real world hits everyone at different times, but you will remember the day it happens.
I remember the exact moment when it finally hit me that the “g-word” was inevitable. It was a Tuesday night, a few weeks before graduation. Anyone reading this who was not an OU student at one time will most likely judge me for the day of the week, but hey, I didn’t have class on Wednesdays.
On this particular night, we were taking it easy. As seniors, we did that more often. It seemed the hangovers hit a little harder in the morning after four straight years of mediocre decisions. My roommates and I had no particular plan in mind and strolled into our default bar, Redbrick. Even if you couldn’t get a hold of anyone, strolling into Redbrick alone would still make you feel like Norm from Cheers.
My favorite spot at Redbrick was always the very front, on the stage by the window, where we could all grab a chair and sip MegaMugs as we watched Zaza or Brock ID people on the way in. It was the best spot to have a casual drink on a Tuesday evening, free of sweaty, grinding freshmen or glittery girls on 21st birthday shuffles.
The crowd around us grew as the night progressed. Some joined us from the library, others from different bars, and some just made an appearance for a quick drink. We exchanged laughs and recounted memories from our four years, letting minutes slip into hours. Then somehow, during a standing-on-the-chairs rendition of Taylor’s Swift’s anthem “22” and sipping the nine hundredth MegaMug of my college career, I stopped.
I looked at the faces around me, imagining the next time I would see them. The town, context, and maybe even state would be different. Some might have jobs while others might still be in school. But although I only met these people a few short years ago, I knew they weren’t, and still aren’t, going anywhere.
Our microcosm has fluctuated, as friends have come in and out and relationships have changed. We’ve seen each other at our best, our worst, and our most embarrassing. Our friendships have grown from acquaintances to support systems to brothers, sisters, boyfriends, and future bridesmaids. As we’ve grown older and our friendships matured, they became more tangible. They materialized from dorm futons to sorority and fraternity houses to leases and couches and dishwasher tallies and TV nights on Sunday evenings. Through the years, we’ve helped run organizations, survived all-nighters at Alden, gave back to our communities, and we’ve made our mark on campus. But most importantly, we created a family.
In that moment, I thought back to high school, which seems like a decade ago, and of the leadership conference that introduced me to one of my closest friends, Dave Edmunds. We were able to connect dozens of people on this campus and I often think about how different life would be had one of us made the decision not to go. I thought back to my senior year of high school and how nervous I was to move to Ohio and build a brand new life from scratch. I never imagined the community I would be a part of.
As joyous bar scream-singing continued around me, I thought back to my very first quarter as a Bobcat, when I caught mono, swine flu, and too many other illnesses to count all at once. A week later, my Dad passed away. I recall the overwhelming feeling of support from the flood of texts and phone calls I received from friends who had been strangers three months prior. I’ll never forget how this same group of young men and women helped to pull me out of the depression that kept me hidden in my dorm room months after.
Yet, as small and special as my group may seem, I understand that we’re part of a whole. That moment at that bar was just one of thirty thousand moments being had in Athens that night, hundreds of which might relate to my own. Part of the magic of Athens is that everyone has their own niche and own crowd but still remains part of the bigger picture. The Six Degrees of Separation are greatly diminished in Athens and even if you walk into a room knowing no one, blind love for Ohio University and the small town around it will unite you nonetheless.
You realize that Ohio University is a place unlike any other when your friends from high school are saying they’re “so over college,” or “can’t wait for summer,” and you’re crying yourself to sleep at the thought of leaving (whether for a few months or for life). It’s brick streets and dive bars have seen you at your most triumphant and your lowest. Athens is a place that will grab you, make you fall in love with each breezy afternoon studying or blurry night on Court Street, and make you wish you could stay forever.
I can think of no better analogy for leaving Athens than considering it the worst breakup of your life. You’ve learned all you can from each other, have grown up together, and realize it’s time to go. You pack up your things, give back the stuff you might have borrowed, and drive away. Maybe you’ll visit now and then, but it won’t be the same. But like any relationship, Athens doesn’t leave you empty handed. It has given you the confidence and the support system to take on whatever challenges you might face. It has given you an international network of people who understand exactly what you mean when you say, “I miss Athens.” It has given you the Bobcat Nation.
To my fellow graduates and those who were with me for those library and Redbrick adventures and everything in between, thank you for living the absolute perfect college experience and the most incredible four years of my life with me. To those still at Ohio University, I hope you make the most out of what’s left of your time in Athens. It goes so much faster than you think. To prospective Ohio University students: who are you kidding. You belong here.
A short update: I just wanted to say how overwhelmed I’ve been at the incredible (unexpected) response to this post!! In less than 30 hours after posting, it has been viewed over 25,000 times from over 40 countries!
Although it’s a bummer that the Athens homesickness never gets better, it’s great to know I’m not alone and I have LOVED reading the stories you’ve shared! Ohio University is such a special place to hundreds of thousands of Bobcats and I am so glad this gave you all a trip down memory lane! Thank you for sharing your stories with me, and this story with others!