College Community

Freshman Year: my roommate and I dressed up as each other. (Note Cyndi Lauper poster in the back!)

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


Author: Diane Vallere

Diane is the author of four mystery series. Like her character Samantha Kidd, she is a former fashion buyer; like her character Madison Night, she loves Doris Day movies, like her character Polyester Monroe, she lives in California; and like her character Margo Tamblyn, she has a thing for costumes. Find out more at

19 thoughts on “College Community”

  1. At 15 my family moved from a very small Pennsylvania town to a very big city in the south. I learned “Hey” was a greeting not food for livestock, “cold drink” was pop, “carry” was offering a ride in a car and poor was exactly the same.


  2. I didn’t want to go to my small Jersey college. I wanted to get out of state. But I loved my college experience and I don’t have massive amounts of debt either. I found my tribe when I went to college and I’m still close to the girls from my Freshman floor. My best friend is a college friend I met sophomore year. Things have a way of working out. Currently, I live in PA, right over the NJ border. My biggest acclimation is getting used to being so far from “stuff.” Also, my kids have off for hunting but not for the Jewish holidays. Talk about culture shock.


  3. College was such a blessing for me. After not fitting in for all of high school, I was around people who came from all different backgrounds and wore everything from camo to Ralph Lauren – but they were all more interested in me than the tag on my jeans. I wasn’t a swimmer, but I did cover the men’s swim team for the college paper. Which meant I was at the meets, the practices. They gave me a team T-shirt. What a great group.


  4. Colleges are large enough (after high school) that you can find your tribe there somewhere. It took me a year to find mine, but well worth the struggle for the payoff of community.


  5. Thanks, all. Funny trivia: the William and Mary athletic teams are actually called “The Tribe.” I should have known! But that group did lead to many great memories and helped me to get comfortable and make other friends as well. Powering on through is sometimes a good thing.


  6. I transferred from a state U in NY filled with people like me to a school in the south filled with people nothing like me. It was the best decision I ever made. And my daughter wants to go to William & Mary!


  7. Wonderful post, Diane! I was a competitive swimmer through high school and remember those long hours training at the pool. As a freshman, I was painfully shy and swimming really helped me come out of my shell. I made some of my best friends, who I’m still friends with today, plus I think all that time spent in the pool–counting laps and letting my imagination wander–probably explains why I love storytelling so much. Thank you for sharing 🙂


  8. You probably didn’t intend this, but given our global situation right now, the idea of acceptance and “fitting in” is, in my opinion, a key toward mitigating the disenfranchisement of entire generations of people. Wardrobe, vernacular, and whatever… there are ways for all of us to make connection.

    Well done!


  9. Great post! As an introvert, I definitely struggle to feel like I belong, well, anywhere. (I really thought “pop” was a midwest thing, and “coke” a southern thing.) I’m a great performer, though. I grew up within a mile of my immediate family, and had the same science teacher as my mother had, at the same high school (one my grandfather had also attended). I went out of state (gasp!) for college, and lived in yet a third for graduate school; even though I stayed in New England, it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences.

    It is lovely to find those points of commonality with a person or group, and then learn to enjoy the differences from there. I so love this Mysterista tribe!

    (I still have my jean jacket, and the buttons are still on it. I’m a pack rat–I have my varsity letter jacket, too.)


  10. After much deliberation and a quick trip in my time machine, I do stand corrected. The imitation mockery that my roommate and I slung back and forth at each other were: “Do you guys want a soda?” vs. “Do y’all want a coke?” Pop, apparently, was edited into my memories later.


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