Dear Ann Arbor,
Hello, old friend. I write this sitting on the steps of the graduate library. My fingers flying across the keyboard, I gaze absentmindedly out onto your Diag. Not your Diag, I suppose; truly, I’m sitting in the University of Michigan’s Diag. Like any good townie, however, I know that the two are easily confused. Two months ago, I would have been looking at hundreds of college students, coffee cups in hand, hunched over from the weight of all the textbooks they never really needed, hurrying along to escape the cold (because we’re in Michigan, where normal standards of seasons rarely apply). It’s June, however, and all I see are a few students taking summer classes and townies on bicycles, on their way to either SoulCycle or an avant-garde art show.
This is the view that draws tens of thousands of applicants each year: The old ivied brick, the clock tower in the distance and the squirrels who are cute for only about five minutes. Not to mention you: Ann Arbor, the beautiful, friendly, mildly eclectic, slowly-gentrified small city in the midwest but the woke part of the midwest. If you scroll through the Instagram geotag of my location, you’ll see hundreds of ecstatic out-of-staters standing just in front of the infamous, cursed M-brick, proclaiming their new Wolverine status in caps lock, with the maize and blue emojis to match. I never made such a post for two reasons: I’ve been a Wolverine since birth and, come September, I won’t be here wearing what the uninformed call yellow and navy. Sorry to break it to you this way.
I love you, Ann Arbor. As the days count down, leaving me with less and less time here, I’m only reminded more of my love for this city. I love how quickly the landscape turns from short skyscrapers to tree-lined neighborhoods as I drive home. I love walking around the summer festival, watching the townies who’ve been here for fifty years dance to obscure folk singers. I love the fact that if someone has lived here long enough, they’ve probably met Madonna or Ben Carson or James Earl Jones, and have a story to go along with that chance encounter. I love living in a town of young people, crafted perfectly for young people.
Choosing to leave you, the town I love so much, was far from an easy decision. At the end of March, as I considered all my college options, I narrowed my choices down to two: The familiar, the University of Michigan thirteen minutes from my house and the unknown, Wellesley College, a daunting 736 miles away. I made the standard pro and con list: Michigan was significantly less costly, however Wellesley had much smaller classes — but Michigan had a remarkably broad social scene, but Wellesley felt like the place for people like me.
That was what won out in the end. During spring break, I left Ann Arbor to visit Wellesley. It was pouring; I ruined my backpack and two pairs of shoes in the downpour, challenging the cheap umbrella I bought at a CVS. I fell in love anyway, all over again yet in a completely different way. Wellesley was the place for me; even in the downpour, I knew it as soon as I set foot on the campus. When I got home and friends asked me what I loved so much about Wellesley, I could only rattle off the pro side of my list, along with a few anecdotes. A friend described it as a wedding dress feeling. That was perfect: Wellesley was my wedding dress.
If Wellesley was my wedding dress, Michigan was my favorite everyday dress. Not bought for any particular purpose or occasion; just stumbled upon in a boutique or while browsing online and bought on a whim, only for it to turn out comfortable and well-fitted, becoming a staple of my wardrobe. Perhaps the wedding dress will turn out to be but a fantasy — beautiful in the abstract but clunky up close. Perhaps I’m going to miss the simple dress I left in my closet; that’s something I need to find out for myself.
My entire life has been built around the University of Michigan. I was born a mile from where I am right now, in a hospital bearing the University of Michigan’s logo to parents who met in the shadow of its medical school. My Halloween costume at age two was a Michigan cheerleader’s uniform; the pom poms are still hidden somewhere in my attic. Just last year, at a tailgate, I heard the first notes of the famed fight song and wondered aloud, “Why are they playing the national anthem at a tailgate?” The University of Michigan is as much my home as Ann Arbor is. Lazy spring Saturdays are spent on the campus. In high school, I frequently masqueraded as a freshman so I could use the libraries to study for AP exams. I could probably write a freshman guide for Michigan as ably as an actual Michigan freshman. When I left for camp last summer, I was disgruntled by my failure to remember something to remember home. By home, I meant not just Ann Arbor, but the University of Michigan, as well.
On April 30, as I clicked through the process of declining my admission to the University of Michigan, my fingers were shaking. I Snapchatted by best friend a picture of the confirmation screen, “We’re officially separating next year :(.” She, along with sixty more classmates — a daunting twenty percent of my graduating class — had already committed to Michigan. For most rising college freshmen, it’s normal to leave your hometown; for high school students from Ann Arbor, it’s abnormal, to an extent. Most of my Michigan-bound classmates are moving into dorms, but still consider themselves to be truly staying home. By turning down Michigan, I am also turning my back on my home.
I love you, Ann Arbor. I love the University of Michigan. I love the fact that a local bank built their entire marketing campaign upon local inside jokes. I love that all townies know not to leave their houses on game day. I love that wherever I go, I’m sure to meet someone with some connection, whether they grew up here or went to the University of Michigan, or both. I love this city, and I love the fierce adoration it attracts from virtually anyone who visits it. That love, and the support growing up in this city has given me, is what has given me the courage to leave. Thank you, so much. Like the Terminator, I’ll be back.
Your most ardent, departing fan.
Lead image Credit: Avery Lumeng