Updated: May 5
I didn’t anticipate writing this post until May when I had time to experience my last finals week, go to my last sorority formal, give my last tour, take graduation pictures or experience the many events that college students have on their calendars for four years. With COVID-19 making it’s world tour right now, I sadly had my final semester of college cut short leaving my heart empty and my university experience void of those coveted lasts.
Although my heart aches to leave JMU early, I can’t let my current feelings overshadow the beautiful four years I experienced in Harrisonburg. James Madison University gave me more than I ever could have asked for as an 18 year old, and now as a 21 year old, I don’t think even a blog post can express my gratitude for my little oasis in the Shenandoah Valley...but I’ll try.
Back in 2016 I graduated high school extremely reluctant to go to JMU. I always wanted to attend UVA, so the thought of going anywhere but, was a real turn off for me. I headed off to Harrisonburg that fall with every anticipation of using it as a stepping stone to get to the University of Virginia. I planted no roots at JMU. I joined clubs with little expectation of seeing the other members after the April of 2017. I didn’t bond with my hallmates, I wasn’t in love with my major and I willingly turned my back on the JMU community all with the idea to transfer.
Well, another UVA rejection later, I found myself back in Harrisonburg for my sophomore year crying in my very first apartment as my mom drove away. There I was sitting in my shoebox of an apartment, living with three strangers, and totally regretting everything I had done my freshman year. I found myself almost friendless and at a total loss for academia. It was then that I swore to myself that if I was going to be at JMU, I would be the best student, employee, friend, sorority sister (you get the gist) I could be and by doing so, I would figure out why everyone and I mean everyone loves James Madison University so much. There was very obviously something I was missing.
Two days after this, a sorority sister called me and asked if I wanted a ride to a recruitment workshop. Not having a car, I was not only shocked by her unprecedented kindness but also thankful to have not only a ride, but a friend. The rest was history - she and I have been best friends ever since. That was the first step to seeing JMU through an entirely new lense.
A month later I applied to be a tour guide with every intention of being kindly dismissed after the first round of interviews since it was one of the most competitive organizations on campus. To my amazement, Student Ambassadors accepted me and served me the ultimate “I told you so” and brought the beauty of JMU’s campus, spirit and people into my vantage point. This organization also helped me cross roads with thousands of college applicants and their families. It gave me the opportunity to make connections with those who might be apprehensive about JMU, just like I was as a freshman, and change their minds as well. Never have I met a group of more selfless, service-minded, genuine people in my life. This organization brought me lifelong friends, hundreds of memories, a respect for every walk of life, an overflowing love for JMU and a passion for singing Dixieland Delight at the top of my lungs (if you know, you know 🤠).
My sophomore year was also the time I dove into my shiny new communication studies major. I originally started off college with a scholarship in mathematics. As much as 3D calculus thrills me (no seriously, it’s fascinating) I simply had no passion for it. After some intense soul searching and many calls of me crying at the end of my freshman year to my mom (sorry mom, love you), I took that leap and did a complete 180 with my major. I went from solving equations to writing 40 page papers in the blink of an eye. Easily the best decision of my college experience.
Studying communication and public relations in addition to writing, rhetoric and technical communication rekindled my love of learning. As I look back at it all, there wasn’t a single class that I genuinely didn’t enjoy and haven’t used in my PR career thus far. The College of Arts and Letters at JMU, specifically the communication studies program is full of spectacular professors who would go to impressive lengths for their students. From the faculty and staff to the courses, they prepared me to hold two fantastic PR internships before my senior year. As I come close to hanging up my backpack for good, I can confidently say I am ready to take on the corporate world in communication and public relations all thanks to the dedication of the SCOM program.
My sophomore year was defined by Student Ambassadors and my new major. It was the year that I began to fall in love with my school. UVA was a thing of the past. I also got to experience ESPN College Gameday that year, go to New York Fashion Week that year and go to a JMU national championship that year. What a whirlwind of change and wow, am I thankful for it!
My junior year was defined by my sorority Alpha Delta Pi. Although I joined ADPi as a freshman in the fall of 2016, I found my place in the chapter during my junior year as I took a seat on the executive board as the Recruitment and Marketing Vice President. I loved getting to lead the efforts on something I was so passionate about. I loved working in a team, I loved working with some of my closest friends and I loved leading recruitment (but we already knew that 😅). Don’t get me wrong, this position was tough. The last three weeks of my junior year were the most stressful three weeks of college but despite it all, this position taught me about teamwork, leadership, event management, and quick decision making. It enhanced my interpersonal skills, my public speaking skills and my creativity. My junior and part of my senior year being RMVP was invaluable.
It’s amazing how the place I hated as a freshman would be the place I’d hate to leave as a senior. The past four years have been a beautiful experience. It’s incredible how much mindset and perspective can change when attitude does. If I hadn’t changed my attitude that first day in my apartment as a sophomore, I probably wouldn't be sitting here with tears in my eyes as a senior as I write this post. I left no stone unturned at JMU. My goals were to study something I was passionate about, consistently perform well in school, join a sorority, be a tour guide, make friends, make memories and be confident in myself by graduation. I achieved every single thing I set out to do.
So if I told myself when I was a senior in high school that I was going to graduate from JMU and not UVA, 18 year old me would have been disappointed in my future self. I would have felt like a failure. But then 21 year old me would say embrace the uncertainty. Embrace the challenge. Embrace the unknown. Embrace the journey that you will take over the next four years. Because even though it isn’t how you planned it to be, it will still be exciting, and tough, and rewarding, and beautiful. It will surpass all expectations. It will leave you with hilariously epic stories. It will bring you to tears. It will make you smile. It will give you ample opportunity and it will turn you into a woman ready to take on the world. It will change you for the better. It will bring inspiring people into your life and it will show you that no place was better for you than James Madison University.