Growth and Gratitude: Alex Waterman's Senior Column

I was assigned to write a senior column…and now I'm sitting in Paterno Library during my final weeks as a student wondering how I should accomplish it.

Having missed out on my freshman year due to COVID-19, my time as a student has always felt short and a little hectic.

During my first week at Penn State when students typically mingled with neighbors on their dorm floors, my fellow classmates and I were warned that having more than four people in a room would result in suspension ( Additional persons must reside in the same building).

It doesn't take a genius to understand that making friends in an environment where everyone is afraid of either being reported by a TA or of contracting COVID-19 and inadvertently harming family members. Scares, doesn't foster the most welcoming environment.

(Also, please do not interpret these as shameful COVID-19 protocols. Many of my loved ones have compromised immune systems, and these protocols have undoubtedly saved their lives.)

Yet, when I reflect on my beginnings here at Penn State, I remember that I now live with some of my closest friends, I had the opportunity to join incredible organizations, and I truly love being in Happy Valley. Lived your best life. Living on campus for two years and finding myself in dining halls smelling of cooking oil every morning and night is not something I thought I would definitely miss.

Growing up in DC, I was sure I would always live in an urban environment. The smell of cows and fields was foreign to me until I visited my aunt and her family in New York. Who would have guessed that the smell of manure now triggers waves of serotonin in my body as I recall countless treks to Beaver Stadium for each football game?

There is much that is very intimate about living in a small town – from the closeness of each business to the familiarity of community members. I find myself wondering, are these things I am ready to leave behind?

With almost exactly two weeks left, (of course) it's only now that I realize all the little things I took for granted. Looking out my window on Calder Avenue, trying to guess the weather by the outfits people were wearing walking down, or running to Unimart at 1:45 before closing at 2 because my roommates. And I ran out of milk to cook brownies. I knew these were special moments, but now I often ask myself, “Did I cherish them enough?”

One thing I will always remember was my experience in the Bellisario College Journalism program, which exceeded all of my expectations. From the expertise of my professors to the opportunities provided in each of our classes, Bellisario College never fails to make me feel part of something important.

I was lucky enough to work with Bellisario mentor Jamie Perry (and if you know Jamie, you don't need to read the next part to understand why he's so great because you already know). . Jamie guided me through each semester with honesty and kindness. No matter the situation, I knew I could count on him to support me every step of the way. It would be an understatement to say that I love Jamie Perry.

Another memory I will cherish while being a student here was the opportunity to study abroad in the second semester of junior year. I always knew I wanted to do it, and my hope was to practice Spanish, but I didn't know where in Spain to go. I visited the study abroad office and as soon as I walked in the door, I was greeted by friendly faces.

By my second visit, everyone told me I needed to study in Seville, which is 45 minutes away from the southernmost tip of Spain. I moved in with a host family who spoke very little English, and to be honest, it was scary and pretty lonely at first. I was unable to express my feelings for the first time in my life, and I was afraid I had made a huge mistake.

But after five months of living independently, exploring a foreign city on my own, trying new cuisines, and immersing myself in a new culture, I realized that I had grown into a completely new person. Studying abroad helped me connect with incredible people from every corner of the world and being able to get to know them and build relationships with them, even though we usually live thousands of miles away from each other, was magical. The city of Seville completely captured my heart, and I can't talk about my Penn State experience without mentioning the best five months of my entire life.

Now, I have to thank the people in my life without whom none of my experiences would have been possible. According to Livy, if I had been paired with someone else as my freshman year roommate, I'm not sure I would have made it through. You have shown me the true essence of friendship, and I will always be indebted to you for the support you have provided me.

To Mary, thank God you changed your major! No matter which path we took, our lives seemed intertwined, and I wouldn't have it any other way. From having the best DEI co-chair ever to being my walking partner to every Onward State meeting, I couldn't be more grateful that we live within three feet of each other.

And to my parents, who have supported me deeply on any controversial topics I researched or wrote about. I can only aspire to be as educated, thoughtful and kind as you two. You recognized early on that math/STEM wasn't my cup of tea (it would be nice of me to say it as much), and instead of shaming me for it, you encouraged me to pursue what I What I like most is writing. You provided me with the opportunity to travel and interact with people completely different from me. You introduced me to the injustices in the world and taught me that even as an individual, I have the power to make change, which I should use whenever I can.

Thank you, Penn State, for making so many of my dreams come true. I honestly can't believe my time here is over. It just doesn't feel real (and I wish it didn't).

Stay quiet for now on the blog…until next time <3

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Alex is a fourth year student majoring in Journalism and Sociology. His greatest accomplishment this year was reading 4000 pages of Game of Thrones, hoping to bring back the nerd in him. He is also very passionate about social issues. you can reach it [email protected] With any comments or questions.

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