To grow up in the Midwest is to be raised around cornfields, ranch dressing and Casey’s Pizza. These are all known and agreed upon facts. But it also means that many, like myself, grew up with nothing to do. Outside of going to the local swimming pool during the summer time or being dragged to a high school football game, there’s not much for awesome experiences in a small town.
Then enters college. My little small town Midwestern life was flipped, turned upside down and shaken around. After attending college for four years now, two at my local community college and two at my state university, I have learned core aspects of big college life. No guarantees, but they can help save people from the gas station pizza eating life (Yo, I love me some Casey’s but I’m trying to prove a point here).
Before attending college, there are five life events that are going to hit you like a freight train during your brief time at a ‘higher education.’
1. Attending that ONE Concert
At some point during your college career you’re going to attend a live concert. You might even attend many. But there’s going to be one special, extraordinarily memorable one that will sit with you till you grow old and about to flatline. If you haven’t gone to concerts yet, don’t fret. I was a late bloomer to the world of attending live music concerts—a world filled with the distant smell of beer throughout the air, with clouds of vape cloud being blown above from that one guy in the middle of the crowd like a sweating tank top wearing dragon, then there is the sparkling glow from the stage, where vibrations are being poured out. Not until I was 18 years-old did I see my first crowd of people grooving to what was being played on a stage in a cornfield in Illinois (Hall & Oates 2016, that concert slapped but it wasn’t my ONE). The band—and I mean the band—that sticks with you will be a band you either barely know or have never heard of before. My one concert that will never leave my mind for as long as I breath in my fresh Iowa air, will be indie-musician, Mitski.
Mitski was someone I never heard of before in my life. Well, up until about one month before she performed in my college town. I called dibs to review her show for my local college radio website, but I had no idea about the amazing treat I was heading for. The way she commanded the dark and bare stage was something I never saw or imagined before. In a dark theater with over a thousand college students, she had them all gasping and reacting to even the most minor movements as she sung her lyrics. With this Avant-garde-Esque performance, where sex, language and movement was used in a way that would have never ever found its way into a small Iowa town, I was taken back by both the beauty and emotions I was feeling. But like all things, don’t settle and don’t feel pressure to go out and find one. As cheesy as it may sound, the right one will show up in your life when it is ready.
2. Reading that ONE book
To experience this, you don’t need to be an English major or a book snob, you just need to be someone who at least tries in one of your lit gen-eds (at least a little bit). At one point during your time at school, you’re going to read a piece of literature that will shake your corn husk–filled world. I’m talking earth quaking shattering, hurricane bashing, Avengers: Infinity War level of wrecking. This book might be chosen by you or it might be thrust upon you, but you’ll start to read it and after that, boom. Life altered.
That book for me was The Tao of Comedy: Embrace the Pause. This book was given to me during a stand-up comedy class (yes, that is a real class I took during my college career and it was the hardest thing I have ever done). This book taught comedy writing, but it meant so much more to me than that. It taught me how to deal with stress, failure, depression, anxiety and above all else how to write a good joke without talking about my genitals. This book has helped me more than anything else that I have ever learned in a classroom.
3. Finding that ONE movie
As pretentious as it may sound, there’s a time in all our lives where a movie really stands out. It’ll feel like everything you have ever felt or worried about. Or maybe it’ll be something you hoped and dreamed was suddenly transcribed right into a film. Be it Citizen Kane or The Big Lebowski or High School Musical 3 or Shrek 2, there is going to be a movie that will concretize your life at that time. This part of college, just like all the rest I have listed, will come out of nowhere. It’ll probably be a movie that you just pop on while watching some Netflix, or it’ll come when you don’t want to see that giant F on the Genetics Midterm you just got back.
My ONE movie came a few years back now. I was having a particular rough week in a spring semester and one fine evening while hanging out with my brother, he put in a movie called Brazil. I never heard of it before that day, and after seeing my first Terry Gilliam dreamlike scene, I was hooked. All of my future career fears and social anxieties were suddenly tossed right into a movie. This fever dream of a terrifying future and metal angel wings was my embodiment of my college experience.
4. Meeting that ONE group of friends
When you move out to college, you’re going to meet new people. Some people will become your friends and others will go their own way. No matter what, you’ll most definitely meet at least two other people that you’ll find yourself talking to all day every single day. It’ll be that group of people who you’ll hang out in each others dorm rooms, talk and stay up all night. To them, you’ll talk about things you never said out loud or even to another human being. Let alone, to someone you’ve only known for less than a semester. But when you meet them, things will click. It’s not guaranteed to stay clicked, though. And don’t worry if it doesn’t. You’ll change and so will they. The people I met my first year were some of the closest friends I have ever had. These friends helped widen my experiences in college, helped me go on bizarre adventures and cause a mild manner ruckus on my Hawkeye campus. These friends help me find a style of friendship that only exists when you’re all living that college life.
5. Finding that ONE person
During college, you meet so many people from so many places. At one point, you’ll find a person that you have never known you could have met. Someone who will challenge you and let you be yourself around them. It’ll be a person that you could never have met while working at the local Hy-Vee in your small town. Someone that you don’t need to explain your weirdness to and vice versa. That person that will be the first fond face that will come to mind when you think of your college experience. This friendship will be something that will dig in deep and will never let up. May it be only for a brief time period or years, but once it has laid into you, you’re going to be a different person. When I think back at all those late-night that will be what I loved most about my college time, sitting around talking about movies, life or bizarre over the top hypothetical plans for the future, this person will be the person you most admire during this time at college, especially after the fact. It’s a friend and there’s nothing better than having that in your life.
So there it is. The 5 aspects of college that I could have never had gotten while living in my little Taco John’s, Happy Joe’s eating, air polluted, pig manure-smelling Midwestern small town. Yes, living in a small town has helped me grow as a person in my own way, but nothing rips the life experience borders down quite like going to college.