If I could determine one single characteristic to define my entire year spent at Penn State, it would be warm. I understand the irony in this. State College winters were anything but in the rocky hills and valleys of central Pennsylvania. But warmth in this instance cannot be defined by the weather.
Warmth is both what I miss and disliked the most about what could have been my alma mater. I miss the warmth of soy lattes at Webster’s Cafe on chilly days where I’d browse shelves of books and records in a warm basement. The warmth of the stacks in the Pattee Library when midnight hit and I was one of the few students still there. The warmth of crowding into Beaver Stadium while being both chilled by the wind and snuggled against random people all cheering on one team. The warmth of the little coffee shop I used to work at in Findlay Dining Commons and the constant pour of warm espresso that came with. The warmth of my tiny dorm room in Brumbaugh Hall, however antiquated it may have been. The warmth that can only come from running outside in brisk weather, past the arboretum, past labs and past North Halls. The warmth of the holidays in State College; of eating with my mother in front of a crackling fire in the Nittany Lion Inn as snow fell outside and Christmas music played in the background. The warmth of a packed frat dance floor where everyone swayed in one formation of bodies. The warmth of driving to State College, through snow covered mountains and tunnels with warmth flooding through the vents in my mother’s SUV.
The warmth is what I miss — I left because there was no heat. There was never a burning furnace of pride that I felt for my school, always looming guilt for choosing a school that a younger version of me always knew simply wasn’t where I was meant to be. There was no white hot passion, no beautiful love story with my old school like I expected — only warmth. Warmth is neutral, which is exactly how I felt there. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it. Because of this I began to use “I don’t hate it” as a suppression mechanism for how much I wanted to leave. If I didn’t hate it, why not stick it out? Not everyone had to have a good college experience, I thought. Maybe this would just be the case for me. Sooner or later, I realized that this wasn’t what I deserved.
In February, THON, one of the biggest events of the year for Penn State, took place. While the student body danced, I worked at the coffee shop. I clapped with my coworkers when the millions of dollars raised for pediatric cancer was announced and felt a glimpse of pride for my school, but not enough to keep me there for another semester. That night I applied to the University of Delaware as a transfer, a process I never expected to go through. I told no one at Penn State. My friends there loved their school, I doubted they would understand.
In March I got my acceptance letter in my Penn State mailbox and slipped it under my fleece jacket to walk back to my dorm, the happiness that I felt could be mine and only mine. I feared that someone would see the letter and wonder what exactly I was doing with a big yellow envelope from Delaware with “Congratulations” scrawled across the front. At that time was when I started wearing my sole Delaware shirt more often.
In April, finals came and went and I finished school at Penn State with a GPA of 3.75 and two Dean’s List recognitions. I left healthier than I had ever been, with more schooling than ever before and having held a job that I felt warm towards for an entire year. But I still left.
My final night at Penn State gave me the same warm feeling that always made it hard to hate the school. I waited for a bus back to East Halls after my final exam, but after standing there at the dark bus stop for awhile I decided walking was the much better way to go. However, my feet took me in the opposite direction from where my dorm was. I walked through the valley that was Main Street, past Webster’s Cafe and the Cajun restaurant that I loved taking my family to when they visited, past Frat Row where I spent many of my nights first semester and then up the hill past South Campus, past the Mount Nittany overlook and past Beaver Stadium. The stars glinted off of the billboard in front that read in bold letters “We Are” and I was reminded of the magic that this place once held for me before I even began a day of classes. I’d miss the dreams that I once held and still did and do for the big, glorious school, but I won’t miss the reality that I had there.
I got back to my dorm late that night. My bed was stripped, my belongings were packed away into two big carts and the window on my side of the room was open as always. Yet I still laid there in the warm darkness of my chilly dorm and weighed what exactly I was leaving behind. I would miss Penn State, that was undeniable. But I knew that far better things laid in front of me than any I would leave behind.
On one of the last few days of April when the sun shined hot yet the air was still chilly I packed up my dorm, hugged my friends goodbye and drove home in the passenger side of my father’s car as a music festival called “Moving On” was held right across the street from my residence hall. How fitting. As we drove off through the mountains I felt a familiar lump of grief in the back of my throat yet no tears flowed. The future ahead was unstable and daunting, yet I knew despite everything else Penn State helped shape me into the person I am today, whoever that may be.
Looking back on my time at Penn State, if I could have just one more day there, it would be identical to how most of my days looked in that last month. I would go to Webster’s Cafe one last time and finally buy a record, I would sit in the Pattee stacks writing an article for my previous Her Campus chapter, I would take an evening run across the northern half of campus as the sun set and the air cooled and then I would go back to my dorm, order takeout from an Indian restaurant and binge watch Shameless. It was peaceful, it was safe and it was my solitude. But I want more out of life than solitude.
So, as I’m always asked, why exactly did I transfer? It took me a while to find a set answer, but I can finally say that the reason why I transferred was to escape the solitude and normalcy of my routine there. It was neutral warm and I’m the kind of person who craves the white hot neon vibrancy of life.
As of now, it is April of my first year at Delaware and I can say that I’ve finally found the vibrancy.