I was a fish out of water at the College of William and Mary. As one of the students who contributed to the 30% out of state contingency, I was immediately aware of the vast differences between Virginians and Pennsylvanians. I was a neon and camouflage wearing freshman amongst a whole lot of plaid. My roommate and I, paired by the college’s computer, kept a list on the wall of the things we had in common (there were seven). To the majority of the people at the college, I talked funny (“soda” and “you guys” vs. “pop” and “y’all”) and I dressed funny (see “neon and camouflage” above). Not a recipe for immediate popularity.
I’m not going to lie. After my first semester, I wanted to drop out. And if my parents had given in to my begging and my tears during the first fall break, I would have. I wanted to move home. I wanted to revisit the other colleges on my list, those in New Jersey, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania. I wanted to be around people like me. I wanted to be closer to home. I wanted to belong.
The deciding factor in me attending William and Mary had to do with a swimming scholarship. The college wasn’t the highest profile school for swimmers, but they needed a long distance person on their team and that’s what I swam, so that, combined with my above-average-but-not-by-much grades from high school gained me admission to the college, and to a community.
Being a part of that swim team kept me going. I made friends, other oddballs like me (my two closest friends and I joked th at we were three Milk Duds in a barrel of chocolate covered raisins). The swim team practiced together for hours a day, cheered alongside of each other at meets, traveled in the van to training trips, and partied together after hours. We were a family of sorts.
Williamsburg became a little less lonely for me. My social circle expanded, but the swimmers remained the people who understood me the most. And now, more than twenty five years after graduating, I remember those friendships and what they meant to me. That’s the power of community: finding and surrounding yourself with a network of people who get past the you-guys and the y’alls, the pops and the sodas, the neon and the plaid, and see you for who you are.
Diane Vallere | @dianevallere