I was able to trek back to Happy Valley this past weekend to tailgate, catch a Penn State football game, and roar through some of my favorite local watering holes. A group of my friends and I were all able to finagle trains, planes and automobiles to get ourselves into town together for the first time in quite a while. It had been almost a year since I’d been to State College, and on my (alarmingly unsafe) return bus trip to NYC, I realized something personally shocking – State College doesn’t feel like home anymore.
I fell in love with State College in my second year of living there. I returned to my hometown of Pittsburgh only the summer after my freshman year. After that summer I moved myself permanently to Centre County. Without hesitation I can say I love Pittsburgh, but it’s a different kind of love, a familial kind almost. I was born and raised there, my family is still very much rooted there, and just driving through the city and surrounding suburbs is akin to putting on a favorite raggedy sweatshirt. Pittsburgh has always been a constant; State College was the first place I could call my own.
The sports, the intensity, the sweeping willingness to always have a good time – those are only a few elements that make up my love for State College. In leaving my childhood home, I found a town in which I became me. Happy Valley embraced me, skidded my knee (in reality, tore my ACL, but that’s a story for a different time), built up my wind chill tolerance, and alternately forced me to sweat out thoughts and dreams over long, hazy summers.
During my PSU trip a year ago, my heart swelled to near burst when I stepped foot in downtown State College. I saw gaggles of friends and stayed on the couches of people who hadn’t yet graduated or moved on. It felt natural, it felt right. My trip this past weekend was altogether different – there were no impromptu reunions and no couches were available, as my friends finally did graduate and move on. I felt like a visitor; an alumni, not a resident.
Returning to NYC on Sunday night, I was simply excited. I’m not sure it felt like coming home, but it felt right all the same. I fell in and out of love with a small town in Pennsylvania, and now I’m flirting and dancing with a big city. There’s so much to learn, to try, to taste, to dig into, and I’m blown away by the prospect of it all.