Six years, six universities, one genuine college experience

Column by Charlie Denison

August of 2002 is gone. So is the naïve, curious, 18-year-old boy from the suburbs of Indianapolis on his way to his first college: Taylor University, a private Christian evangelical school in Upland, Indiana.

That was six colleges ago.

One question I get a lot is one you’re probably wondering now: Why so many colleges?

Telling story after story and sharing coincidence after coincidence would take far more than 700 words. It’s also not the purpose of this column. As I reflect, there’s another question that comes up much more:

Who have I become?

Each experience, each decision shapes us in this vital stage of life. Every time we get out of our comfort zone, meet someone who is nothing like us, everything — the friends we make, the faith we lose and gain then lose and gain again, the trouble we muster, the trips we take and the music we play or listen to all become part of us.

The lifelong relationships we begin in the dorms, the silly pranks with Arnold Schwarzenegger sound boards on Ebaum’s World, the long walks in the winter to pick up the car from the stadium, the late nights talking until three in the morning.

The college experience is dramatically different from person to person. Nevertheless, there are expectations, goals, dreams, fantasies and, of course, the responsibility that comes with the freedom we possess.

It grabs hold of you fast. Remember the first time you went back home? You see friends who either went somewhere else or were still in high school. You see the ones who decided to stay. It didn’t feel the same. The world got larger, your life smaller, and you’re struck with that irreplaceable feeling that you know you’re growing.

I remember sipping a martini with Mr. Miller, the father of my old drummer who lived two doors down. “Change is the only constant,” he said. “And the only consistency.”

I didn’t know how right he was.

Change, although often feared, is something to be embraced, welcomed and cherished. When we find ourselves in a new situation, it’s time to rely on our own intuition and listen intently to our soul.

After leaving Taylor University after one semester, after a summer session at Indiana University Southeast and a blissful year at IU where I met two of my best friends, I found myself at the University of Louisville, living with my parents who’d recently moved there.

After two semesters, I went to England for a Cooperative Center for Study Abroad program where I met Thomas, the lone Wildcat on the trip. I was the lone Cardinal. Little did we know we’d become instant friends.

Shortly after that trip, I knew, as someone passionate about writing, it’d be wise to go somewhere with a journalism school. Before seeing the campus, I enrolled at UK.

Thomas’ third roommate backed out of the lease. I moved in and became involved right away by writing for the Kernel, volunteering with the College Democrats and playing bass in a new band.

A summer internship for the Star Press in Muncie, Ind., and a short stint as a guest student at Ball State University passed quickly.

Driving out to Big Sky, Mont., with my dad and his new labrador to help with my parents move was another unexpected shift.

The fall of 2006 rolled around and I found myself, for the first time, returning to the same college. Still, change was constant: new place, new roommate, new friends, new gym, new band, new publication — the now defunct Wildcat Weekly.

Suddenly I felt great pleasure in walking to a familiar campus, having a few of the same professors to watch my progress carefully and open their doors eagerly if I needed anything. Friendships and relationships grew without the distance. Even the sight of the great blue Fifth Third Bank tower became appealing. Home.

Whether you are easily influenced, ultra-inquisitive or used to a steady routine, college is a time of significant change and growth. It’s the time where we ask the question: Who will I become?

Now, that sheltered suburbanite from six years ago is a 24-year-old writer and musician with a UK diploma — once a Trojan, a Hoosier, twice a Cardinal, forever a Wildcat.

Charlie Denison is a UK graduate and currently a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected].