For some people, moving away from their hometown is one of the hardest things that they will ever do. And I cannot tell you how many people I know from my town personally who move away for a semester only to return when they realize that moving away isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
And when I told people my senior year that I was moving away and never coming back only a handful of people actually believed me. I got the common responses like "Oh you say that now but just wait a few months" and "This is a town that everybody claims to hate but nobody ever leaves".
I also got the slightly more founded statements that can generally be summed up as "But your whole family and life are here". And I understand why people said these things because, for the most part, those things are all true.
But these things weren't enough to warrant me staying in a town that I truly felt smothered. For me, I didn't move away because I got accepted into a prestigious school or got an amazing job offer that I couldn't pass up. I moved away because I wanted to build roots in a community that would love, accept, and embrace me.
And I say all of this with the utmost respect to my hometown. I truly believe that living there was a step along my journey and I'm thankful for all that I gained while living there. I truly believe that you can learn things from every stage in your life even if it's not necessarily a great one or it's the worst experience that you've ever had.
And living in my hometown certainly wasn't awful but it was incredibly stagnant and stifling, to say the least. As I grew up and my worldview started shifting from what I had always been taught was the "correct" way of believing, I stuck out like a sore thumb. My environment around me was not at all conducive to the development of new ideas and ways of thinking.
Like much of the midwest, I grew up in a tiny red town that was every farming, conservative, Christian's dream. And as a closeted gay, liberal, feminist who actually believed in things like evolution and global warming, you could say that I didn't fit in all that well.
But despite these things, I don't resent growing up in my small town, regardless of how well I fit in. Living in an environment that is uncomfortable, as long as it's not hostile, is something that I think everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime.
Even though it's incredibly challenging, it's worthwhile because it teaches you how to view people who can easily be labeled as "the other" as fully human. And I know that might sound obvious to some of you but I know from experience that it is so easy to only see people as their political or religious views.
And I truly think that it is vital, if we wish to make any sustainable change, that we find the common ground that unites us instead of what separates us. Now that I have it, I wouldn't change my community for the world and I certainly won't be moving back to my hometown now or ever. And I'm so thankful that I have this privilege because I know not everybody does.
I'm a big believer in finding your place and taking up space. Each and every one of us deserves to be surrounded by people that are not necessarily always going to agree with us but people who will challenge us to become the best people that we can be. I'm so thankful that, at least for the foreseeable future, I have found my place and I am definitely taking up space.