Going to school with close to 40,000 undergraduate students makes Penn State feel huge at times.
Other times, I find myself marveling at the universe’s affinity for making sure that out of those 40,000 students, I consistently bump into the people I met awkwardly at a friend of a friend’s party, or suffered through an uncomfortable group project within one of my unpleasant general education classes. There are times when I wonder if I should have sprung for the big city college experience — one with subways and taxis and classrooms on the corners of city streets. There are times when I feel as though I have traded my suburban existence at home for more of the same in college.
I know I am not alone in this kind of thinking. Many students have to make the difficult choice between urban and rural living when deciding on a college, and the plethora of other influential factors — scholarships, tuition, majors — can sometimes make the decision for you.
There are times when I feel stir crazy here at Penn State, even now in my junior year. At the completion of my last spring semester, I reflected on my life in a small town at home. Over the summer, I frequently found myself on a train headed toward Philadelphia, soaking in as much of the city as I could while the getting was good.
Small town living is all I have ever truly known, and it was not until this past semester that I learned to appreciate what a gift that has been.
Back home, my father grew up in the adjacent neighborhood to the one in which we currently reside, and until a few months ago, my grandfather still lived in that same house where he and my grandmother raised their five children. In October, while I was here at Penn State, my grandfather lost his battle with cancer. I bought the first bus ticket available back to suburban Philadelphia to be with my family, preparing myself for an emotionally taxing week.
My extended family gathered in my grandfather’s now empty home the first night, and we ordered ten pizzas from the Murt family’s preferred Italian eatery, Joe’s Pizza. The knock at the door a few minutes later announced the food’s arrival, and 10 stacked boxes of pizza landed on the old wooden kitchen table — the receipt taped to the top box.
I glanced at it quickly, and did a double-take upon seeing this note: “Our condolences to you and your family.”
Scrawled beneath the message in the price box was the word “Free.”
My grandfather lived in our town since the 1950s. He donated his time and energy throughout the community his entire life, and though he was never a rich man or famous, he sowed the seeds of goodwill wherever he went.
When Joe’s Pizza received a call for a delivery to 521 High Avenue, they knew exactly whose house that was, and why 10 pizzas were needed there as soon as possible. The receipt brought tears to my eyes.
There is merit to living in a place where people know your name, a place where you have grown roots and gotten to know your neighbors over the years. In a place like Hatboro, Pa., men like my grandfather are who make small town living worthwhile. The same can be said for State College. The familiar faces you bump into day after day in the HUB-Robeson Center or at the bus stop are faces worth saying hello to and getting to know. After you graduate, your legacy among those who remain may fade, but what you take away from your interactions with those around you stays with you forever. Learn the name of the woman who sells you your trenta-sized black coffee every day, or the girl at In a Pickle who knows your order by heart. Introduce yourself to the librarian who has helped you navigate the stacks more than you’d care to admit, and to the custodian who wishes you a good morning as you leave your dorm for class. Take advantage of your chance to create a small town atmosphere on a campus of over 40,000.
After graduation, I hope to move to the city. I have dreams of loft apartments and concerts and public transportation. But when it comes time to settle down, if ever I so choose, I want to do it in a place where I can learn names and recognize faces. It may seem morbid to wish that when you pass away, the people at your favorite pizza joint will care enough to send your family free food, but it is so much more than that. There is a reverence in knowing that your existence on earth made a difference to someone, and small town living has shown me what merit that holds.
Katie Murt is a junior majoring in English and is The Daily Collegian’s Tuesday columnist. Email her at kem5468@psu.