I've been putting this article off for a while now, for various reasons.
In all honesty, I don't know how to write it. I don't know where to start, what topics to talk about and where to end, because there is no line straight enough to define my time at Michigan State. Nothing, no language or word in the dictionary, can correctly summarize the roller coaster I buckled into August 2018, the twists, turns and drops I endured, and the gut-wrenching nausea I feel now having to get off, for the first time in four years, to make room for other riders.
“How lucky I am, to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – A.A. Milne
They tell you that life moves fast, and that the older you get, the faster it moves.
What they don’t tell you is how truly soul crushing that reality is.
How one day, you wake up and you’re a child with too much freedom, wishing to be an adult that’s taken seriously, and the next day, you wake up and you’re an adult with too much responsibility, the one you dreamed about, wishing to turn back time for a breath of the past.
They tell you that college will be the best four years of your life and to make the most of the college experience.
What they don’t tell you is how much pressure that statement can put on a person.
How you are mercilessly beaten out of your shell until you become an indistinguishable firecracker that doesn’t know how to properly manage their time or money, that doesn’t know how to have and hold onto genuine friendships and relationships, that is in constant debt and despair because they feel they have certain expectations to live up to and yet are disappointing everyone around them if they don’t say yes, yes, YES.
Everyone’s lives, everyone’s college experience, is different.
Mine had its ups and downs. It was never truly perfect or truly the worst. Every day spent on this campus, on the streets of East Lansing, has shaped me into the young woman I am today. That’s a cliché statement, but a real one at the heart.
I remember applying to come to MSU. I never toured or never researched the university, simply and blindly trusting my dad’s love for his alma mater (class of 1992). I remember getting the small letter in the mail. “Dear Miss Sara Tidwell,” it said, “your admittance has been deferred to the 2019 spring semester due to lack of space in the fall entry class.”
That one stung.
Regardless, I diligently made plans to attend the community college in my hometown, to stay with my parents until the new year and then be on my way.
A few months later, by the grace of the universe, I received another letter, this one much larger than the first. I remember bringing in the mail after school and ripping open the long-awaited fall welcome package, yelling the news to my dad from the kitchen.
"Dad, I got in!”
I remember signing up for a dorm, my AOP friend group and roommate who had a sister with the same name as mine. I remember move in day, feeling like I was at a never-ending summer camp, taking three ice cold showers a day and frat-hopping with my strangely deeply connected friend group until four in the morning because no one was there to yell at me to come home.
I remember how out of place I felt when I went back to my hometown for the summer and how my sophomore year started off on an even better foot than the first. I remember the tears I cried, the dumb stuff I did with friends that I promised to take to the grave, the lessons I learned and the opportunities I was given.
I remember my first day in The State News, having begged former editor-in-chief Madison O’Connor tirelessly over email to give me an interview for the sports desk. I remember filling out my welcome paperwork with my now roommate, Wendy Guzman, sitting across from me, unaware of all the trouble we’d cause in the coming years and the people she’d introduce me to. I remember how at home I felt in the newsroom atmosphere and how I knew this was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
I remember declaring my minor as sports writing. I remember my first story being published, seeing my name in print for the first time, my first interviews with MSU coaches and players and the first game I attended.
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I remember the freedom of being fresh out of high school, 18 and 19 years old, not having to stress about what came next because I was finally where I was supposed to be and there were four whole years set up ahead of me before I had to start planning again.
I had time. So, so much of it.
And then I blinked.
I remember my sophomore year ending early, saying goodbye when I wasn’t ready to, because a deadly virus had started circling the globe and reached our town. I remember standing at my brother’s commencement in my high school football stadium when they called all Port Huron Northern alumni to recognition, feeling so familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
I remember returning to East Lansing just to have another entire year robbed from me as we moved to virtual learning. It was then that I spiraled. Junior year was the darkest and I struggled to get a grip on my life for quite some time.
I moved to Connecticut for my first big girl job covering athletics in the capitol city and living out teenage Sara’s dream.
And then we were allowed to come back. I moved into a house with three of my best friends and I turned 21. Everything gradually started to open again, bars and frats and the newsroom and my classrooms. Normalcy, though a different type, was on the horizon and I was determined to make the most of it for the final go-round.
While it wasn’t a perfect send off, and some days I feel like I’m back to square one, it was my send off.
I blinked and what was once my freshman year was now my senior year. It didn’t hit me until the week of commencement, that everything I’d done over the past nine months was for the last time. The last class, the last assignment, the last exam, the last game, the last interview, the last story. All of it was coming to an end and on Saturday, I’ll be an alumna of the best university in the country, in my humble and biased opinion.
I’m moving to Cincinnati at the end of May for my second big girl job, away from my family and friends once again. Except this time, for the first time in 17 years, when September rolls around on the calendar, I don’t know what’ll be next.
Sure, I stand as the same tree that was planted 22 years ago, but with that same trunk I bear different leaves. Leaves that MSU watered through sacrifice and challenge, success and celebration time and time again. Leaves that are confused, heartbroken, angry and all the while grateful, because I knew the end was coming, I just didn’t think it’d be so soon.
Farewell and thank you, Michigan State, my dear old friend. It’s been a privilege, a pleasure and an honor to call you home and to cover what goes on within your borders. May we cross paths again one day, when I pass the Spartan blood down to kids of my own, the same as my dad did for me.
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