Uprooting and Rerooting: The College Years

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BY SARAH SHEARER

Sarah is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied nonfiction writing and French. She loves finding stories within people and bringing them to life — when she’s not watering her basil plant or making kombucha in her kitchen.

Sarah is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied nonfiction writing and French. She loves finding stories within people and bringing them to life — when she’s not watering her basil plant or making kombucha in her kitchen.

I don’t think anyone would have been surprised if I never left. 

I’m convinced most kids go through an attachment phase, leading up to a big move or other life change. And like most phases we go through, it passes. We leave; we learn how to wake up in a different house and put toast into a new toaster and twist an unfamiliar shower knob. 

We learn a new normal — this is the definition of a phase. But if you’re like me, reader, you don’t (or didn’t) possess this word. It was simply left out of your dictionary. So when the opportunity for change inevitably presents itself, you run from your suitcases and bury your face in the living- room-couch cushions. Home has an awfully addicting way of making you stay. 

Maybe this is familiar. Maybe you put one of those square hats on your head and took photos with your family and friends at high school or college graduation recently and have some pretty daunting changes ahead of you. Hear this, reader: you don’t have to mourn your life. Stop the funeral right in its tracks. Put your black dress away, and hit pause on the tears. I’ve done my fair share of crying into suitcases, and I don’t want you to fall into the same trap.

As a recent wearer of one of those college-sized square hats myself, I am here to tell you that it is within your power to do it. As someone who woke up the first morning in her dorm feeling like she was in prison, I am here to unlock that door for you and share with you that life does in fact exist beyond your comfort. And if there’s anything about that I’d write home about, it’s that those beyond-comfort moments are some of the best. 

There’s an ash tree that grows outside my bedroom window. I’ve always said that my roots go deeper than its. The tree couldn’t leave even if it wanted too — but me, I was there to stay and didn’t want to leave, even though I could. Even though, one day, I would have to. 

The first move will be hard, reader. It will be hard and you may feel like you locked yourself in a prison cell by deciding to move out of your childhood comforter and the happiness you felt there.

Know it’s worth it. It’s worth it to learn a new shower system, worth it to buy new bedding, worth it even if you cry into your suitcase in the process. It’s worth it because if you never uproot yourself, you’ll never know the freedom that comes from walking around on the grass. 

College couldn’t be a better time to learn how to dig up the roots. You get down on your knees and use tools you’ve never known you had before to do the dirty work. And when you finally stand up and get moving, some dirt’s still gonna be there. It’ll be there, and it may make a mess, and it may remind you of where you came from. That’s ok, because you’ll soon learn the fine art of systemically putting down roots and picking them back up again. This is the rhythm of college. 

During my first year of college, I refused to call my dorm room “home.” Anything but home. I thought that if I did, it would confirm what I suspected was slowly happening: I was growing up. I was learning how to leave. So, I lived that first year holding onto my childhood home with a death grip while giving my actual, though temporary, home the equivalent of a side hug all year. 

I did not love that little room, I did not want to wipe my feet at the doormat each night. The idea of having multiple homes did not seem possible.

Reader, if you do one thing next year, call your home your home. Just do it. No matter where it is, commit to it now. Commit to being at home where you live. 

Remember the ash tree in my front yard? There’s something about it I didn’t know. Ash trees root themselves by spreading out — like, 60-foot-diameter spread out. They move and expand and grow small root in each place they occupy before continuing outward. Some of the most secure ash trees have tiny root systems extending even farther than the height of the tree! 

In college you’re gonna encounter some roots of your own. You’ll have one in your first-year dorm and one in your final apartment, one in the spaces you’ll occupy in-between, some for summer breaks, and maybe even across the ocean, too. Let them grow. Unpack your bags. Allow these places to anchor in your life because — and this is the part no one ever told me — you get to have more than one root. Roll out a welcome mat in front of your space. Make the toast. Do whatever you need to do, and know that first home didn’t turn a cold shoulder to you because of it. It’s still there; it still has a mark on your story. And when you leave that place? There’s another mark. But if you don’t let yourself grow down little roots in every space you own, you won’t look back and see homes at those marks. You’ll see campsites. 

You deserve to do more than camp out in your own life, reader. Stick your feet in the dirt and live where you are. And when you do, I’ll come over with a plate of cookies. Let’s do this together.