How I Didn’t Lose My Values in College

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After committing to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was surprised how many people in my sheltered community were bothered. When I would tell church acquaintances of my future as a badger, I’d be told how I had been such a good kid. It became clear that my small community feared that instead of finding myself at UW, I would lose myself and find alcohol and a wild lifestyle – a path I didn’t plan to follow.

I attended high school at Eastbrook Academy, a small private Christian school in Milwaukee. My entire school totaled 60 kids and 12 people made up my graduating class. Needless to say, I didn’t do a lot of the stereotypical things kids my age were doing.

I wasn’t into recreational drugs, partying or any other “edgy” and “unlawful” activities like the “cool kids.” When my friends weren’t over on the weekends playing FIFA or Halo, I spent my time happily watching Netflix with my family or saving galaxies in Mass Effect. I knew that a more popular party lifestyle existed, but I just enjoyed the idea of slaying monsters in Skyrim more than knocking back a few drinks.

Yet it was so strange how many people—who knew the devotion to my faith—seemed to think I would transform into an alcoholic hippy once my feet touched the pavement at Madison. Well, three years later, none of that has happened and I’m thriving in UW’s diverse community.

I still think back to all of the people who feared for me as I moved from my small Christian community to Madison, “the land of debauchery.” Was it a fear that Madison’s reputation as one of the best party schools in the country would corrupt me? Or maybe a misguided understanding of that reputation meant I wouldn’t be able to walk a single block without some fraternity brother trying to pour beer down my throat? Why wasn’t I worried? Then it hit me.

My parents never sheltered me or my brother growing up. They didn’t hide the fact that drugs existed or that too much alcohol can lead to poor decisions. We both knew about what the church community jokingly refers to as the “outside world.” However, my brother and I were also conscious about the consequences of engaging in those kind of behaviors.

For a “nice church kid,” I liked to think I was pretty cultured. I had seen enough drunks in movies (Wayne’s World comes to mind) to conclude that drinking wasn’t going to be my choice for entertainment. But in the context of my sheltered community, I enjoyed things some types of “rebellion.”

My favorite music genre was metal, the Boondock Saints was a favorite movie my senior year and I loved violent video games. It wasn’t me that was sheltered, it was the  community I lived in for so many years. I knew what I enjoyed and attending one of the top party schools wasn’t going to change that.

Friends I have made during my time at Madison still poke fun at the minuscule size of my high school, and some have asked why on earth I chose to go from a class of 12 to a school of 42,000.

I needed to leave my sheltered community if I ever wanted to be challenged on how to relate to people and approach the world. I needed to take my toes out of the shallow water and cannon ball into the deep end.

While many people thought making such a huge jump would damage me and cause me to fear the waters of this “scary” world, I proved to myself it was possible to make such a huge transition. Instead of thrashing about like a panicked child first entering the water, I thrived.

As I swam, I was amazed that my personal convictions grew stronger while my heart softened. I interpreted the life choices of my new friends as just that—choices. Even if I played hoops on Saturday night while they met up with other friends at parties, we all still enjoyed getting doughnuts at the Madison-famous Greenbush bakery or grabbing dinner together. We’re just students finding out what this new world of college was like for ourselves.

Of course I still run into folks that mock me for not partying. I’ve also found people who thumb their noses at me for associating with “wicked people,” but it doesn’t bother me. I learned to tune out any narrow-minded culture and  instead invite everyone to come swim in the deep end with me.

I am a Senior at UW-Madison studying English, Comm Arts, and Digital Studies. I’m a media junky, especially for movies and video games. Kowabunga readers!

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