As a senior in high school, I was considering colleges based on where they were located instead of the college itself. Because I lived in the Midwest, I applied to basically all east and west coast schools to give myself the opportunity to “branch out.”
However, my mentor and friend from dance, Deirdre, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the time, encouraged me to apply to Wisconsin and visit her for a game day. And that is just what I did.
The game started at 11 a.m. and she told me to arrive in Madison around 8 a.m. so we could have a full morning of tailgating, like they do at Wisconsin. Three hours to stand around and have a drink? That seemed a bit excessive to me.
That morning when I arrived, I experienced the big, breathtaking Lake Monona and the glowing, monumental Capitol building for the first time. I could feel my heart begin to beat faster as I approached campus. Students dressed head-to-toe in red Badger gear ran past left and right. Front lawns were packed with Badger fans jamming to music and sipping drinks from red solo cups.
Deirdre was waiting for me at the base of the driveway and flung her arms around me as soon as I arrived. She pulled me inside and before I could even take off my coat, she threw me into Badger clothes so I could fit the part. I pulled on a Wisconsin Lacrosse jersey, a red zip-up sweatshirt and red and white “game day beads.” I looked at myself in the mirror and couldn’t help but smile at the Badger look-alike I saw before me.
To begin our tailgating, we skipped out the door in the direction of the EDM music bumping next door. We headed straight to the source of the music and uncovered a raging dance party. Deirdre and I looked at each other, shrugged, and began to show off our dance skills with beaming smiles.
I was in awe of the balance of carelessness and excitement around me. The only thing that seemed to matter to them was flaunting their enthusiasm for their adored school—something I never experienced but now craved.
Not before long, the crowd got thinner as it neared the start of the game. Deirdre motioned for me to follow her and we slid out through a hole in the fence bordering the backyard.
We proceeded down Langdon and I felt like I was in a herd of red cattle. Shouts of “On Wisconsin” filled the air with whooping and hollering. People we met on our journey were eager to tell me about the irreplaceable experiences Wisconsin has to offer. I felt wanted here, and I couldn’t help but yell “On Wisconsin” with them.
When we reached Camp Randall, we showed our tickets to the usher and jogged up the four flights of stairs to take our spots in the student section. I peered out into the stadium and gaped at a massive sea of red doing synchronized hand motions and yelling synchronized cheers. Every Badger in sight looked confident and comfortable performing them, no matter how outrageous they were.
I couldn’t help but smile as I tried to act like a Badger and follow along. I thought I had it down until four loud beats filled the stadium while the student section screamed and jumped with joy.
As the beat dropped, everyone around me started jumping around in a circle while singing and dancing. I tried to do the same but the bleachers were so shaky that I was afraid of falling down. However, I couldn’t let my first “Jump Around” experience pass me by. I copied Deirdre and bobbed up and down while turning in a circle. Even the Wisconsin football players were “Jumping Around.”
As I was “Jumping Around,” I was thrilled to be a Badger like everyone I met that day. I was ecstatic to be a part of this community of red and I didn’t want it to end. I was sold.
Through out my college search, I was told that when I found the right fit, I would just know. Being the most indecisive person in the world, I thought that realization would never happen to me. But it did.
Although Deirdre and I left the game early and I don’t remember the outcome, I felt like I won. I won this amazing experience that guided me towards my future school.
Besides the high academic achievements, Wisconsin won my heart that game day with its school pride—something I’d never experienced before in that magnitude.
Now, as a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have been able to experience 19 game days. Every game day, I still remember visiting as a senior in high school and recall why I chose this school. I’m still so grateful that I’m able to be a part of Wisconsin’s unity and excitement every Saturday in the fall.