May 17, 2007

By the end of summer, I will have traded in my cowboy hat and boots for a cap and gown. Well, maybe I'll keep the boots. Regardless, as I finished studying for my final exams last weekend, I came to the sad realization that I was on the brink of a new era in my life. I was going to graduate college.

College isn't simply about getting a higher education; it's a growth process, a rite of passage. And if you're too scared to live, the opportunity will pass you by. When I asked one of my friends why they went to college they gave the usual answer: to get a degree. A degree? You mean you wasted four years of your life just to be handed a receipt of all the hours you've studied, books you've bought and classes you've attended? I'm sorry, but if that's all you have to show for your years in college then I feel sorry for you.

Now, I must admit I too was caught up in this train of thought for my first two years of college, which I spent at the University of South Florida. Don't get me wrong, I still love my Bulls. But the living at home, driving to class and lack of social life left me with this empty feeling. While USF has Greek life, and an up-and-coming athletic program, it still felt like high school to me. I still saw the same people, the same cliques, and the overall monotony that you get from attending a commuter college. I needed a change.

So I transferred to Florida State as a junior. I told my parents it was for the school's outstanding psychology program, but in reality it was more like Good Will Hunting Syndrome: "I went to see about a boy." The first year was a tough adjustment: the cooking, the studying, the cleaning (not to mention living with a roommate). It's amazing how two people can be the best of friends until you put them under a roof together. How my girlfriend and I did not resort to a tables, ladders, and chairs match still baffles me. Still, we were able to reconcile and rebuild our friendship --- under separate roofs.

Turns out the lease wasn't the only thing that would be broken that year, as my boyfriend of two years decided it was time to "take a break." At first, I was crushed, but then you wake up one day and it doesn't hurt so bad. The breakup caused me to branch out and make new friends and to have my "own life," which I had come to realize had previously revolved around my ex.

And then, September 5, 2005 happened. I attended my first game at Doak Campbell Stadium. And my college experience went from ordinary to, well ... I'm still at a loss for words to describe it.

I'll always remember the student section at sporting events. They are an entire army of cheerleaders, only with a two drink minimum. And who can forget the view? While some would argue that being in the first row at the goal line is a bad angle to watch the game, I would say that you haven't experienced college football until you are in the thick of it all. Those seats are all about the experience ... being arms-length from the field, surrounded by screaming fans, where you can soak in the adrenaline of it all. Aside from FSU's 2005 victory over Miami, my memories at Doak will forever be engrained in my mind. The victories, the losses, the sights, and the sounds are not something easily forgotten. Who can forget the time we were playing Maryland on Homecoming weekend? We were down with eight minutes or so left in the third quarter when the notorious Burger King man made his run down the length of the field in full garb with staff, only to jump into the student section at the opposite end. Sure, he was arrested for trespassing, but he proved to be Florida State's equivalent to a Rally Monkey that day when the 'Noles came back to win the game.

The social scene in Tallahassee is legendary. I spent many a night slaving away behind a bar. In Tallahassee, bartenders are the equivalent of rockstars; everyone knows your name and knows you bring the party. I spent the greater part of my college career at Florida State working for various bars around town, before finding my niche in a place called Elements Lounge a.k.a. "where the pretty people party." The staff there was like my second family.

Then, there's the campus. Until I moved to Tallahassee, the closest I had come to seeing a "hill" was my driveway. Florida State's campus is one huge hill. Walking to and from class is beautiful, with many of the school's older structures still intact and restored from the days my own grandmother attended the University. The campus is also covered in artistic and commemorative statues. But for most folks, the best scenery of all is walking across Landis Green. Second to Bobby Bowden field, Landis Green may be one of the prettiest pieces of grass you will ever lay your eyes on, not for the landscaping but for the crowds of women that flock here to "study" (in bikinis, of course). It's been more than a privilege to be a part of beautiful female student body at Florida State. Don't worry boys, while 1,500 red blooded American men maybe signed up to go to Florida State, 1,500 beautiful women had been accepted. Poor Georgia Tech wasn't as fortunate.

No college experience is complete without the occasional road trip, and some of mine were legendary. You just get in your car with a few friends, a change of clothes, and no real destination. Spring weekends in Panama City were the stuff kids talk about for years, or at least the parts they can remember. Sporting events were an entirely different story. Some of the best trips I have ever taken were to follow our teams to tournaments, regionals, and bowl games. I can still remember a weekend in Athens, where I fell asleep on a luggage cart in the hotel lobby after spending the entire day out in the sun for a baseball doubleheader. To say I was exhausted was an understatement.

Walking around my final days on campus, I can't help but get a little nostalgic. I remember the days slaving away in the Leach center (the gym), while cursing the blonde girl next to me for her near perfect body. I remember the Friday afternoon Happy Hours at Potbelly's, where kids would actually race each other to get there right after their last class. I remember walking out to my car after a night with the girls, and finding that lone McDonald's bag and praying that I wasn't the one that ate its contents the night before. I remember walking across the campus, hearing the Marching Chiefs blaring their latest halftime show and getting chills bumps down my arm that game day was approaching. I remember the way it felt to reach the top of Doak Campbell, running stadiums in late autumn at sundown. But mostly I remember what it feels like to be garnet and gold through and through, and to always be a part of something great ... to be a part of a legacy.

John Adams once said, "There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live." College gave me all of that, and then some.

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