These past three weeks have been a whirlwind. I could write about orientation, or more affectionately, "o-week," my lack of sleep, the university-wide dependence on coffee, the welcoming student body at Washington and Lee shown through our speaking tradition, the late night talks, the community of trust with the honor system, all the free t-shirts, my initial classes.
But what I think makes my first taste of college life unique was the night I cooked cheese grits (one of my favorite foods from back home) in the first floor kitchen of our residence hall. There's something cohesive about breakfast at midnight with a group of people you've only known for a brief amount of time. Coming to Virginia for school, my goal was to distance myself from my experience growing up in the Deep South. And it was evident, from my answer when I was asked "Why did you choose W&L?" to discussions involving social justice issues to avoiding using the term "y'all." But this particular night, I chose a more vulnerable path. I chose to embrace my roots and unabashedly share my culture in a new environment with new people. And guess what? This group of people, all from different areas across the U.S. and internationally, with different families and upbringings, they embraced my cheese grits. They embraced me for me.
Somehow I managed to stretch the whole carton of grits and milk and cheese and more Tony's Creole seasoning than I usually use (thanks to the encouragement of some of my international friends) for 20+ people. It taught me that building a community doesn't work if you think you have to change yourself to fit a certain mold. A strong community is formed through authenticity, through closeness. Through piling into a tiny kitchen just to witness the process. Through squeezing too many people on couches and spilling onto the floor in a common room just to be part of the conversation. Through being willing to try new things and entertaining the possibility that maybe your taste buds have changed. Through staying behind to help clean up the messy parts. This is a community. This is fellowship. This is the tending time to prepare for growth. I'm so excited to absorb everything that this first year of college has to offer.