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Graduates, you’ll miss this place we call home

Liam McLeod Liam McLeod

By Liam McLeod • Guest Columnist | To the high school Class of 2020, congratulations! There is nothing more exciting than completing high school and preparing to leave and move on toward what comes next.

It was four years ago now that I was in your shoes, a recent grad with nothing on my mind but leaving my hometown. I can tell you this, enjoy this last summer at home and don’t wish it away. College is exciting and extremely fast-paced. These four years at UNCC have felt like one year at Tuscola, though I’ve grown and changed more than I ever could have in high school. I learned many lessons in my first year of college, but there’s one that sticks out the most to me: our home is unlike any other in North Carolina. 

When you get to college, I can guarantee you will be blown away by the amount of people you’ll meet, and one of the first things you’ll realize is that your home and the activities that come with it are extremely unique. The amount of people you’ll meet in college that have never been to or seen a waterfall is mind boggling. You have hundreds in your backyard. So many of the friends I’ve made tell stories of hometowns with nothing to do outside of school. You’ve got an entire parkway with thousands of trails to call your own. 

For those of you who take advantage of these resources, you know of the magic you feel once you’re surrounded by the nature of Southern Appalachia. To those of you who don’t get out there enough and are about to leave, I beg you: start enjoying it today. 

College is an amazing place where you can learn and grow as a person outside the limits of our small town, but there’s one thing almost every college in North Carolina lacks (excluding WCU and App State) — access to nature. Something you’ll quickly realize about college is that it’s stressful. That fact is not meant to scare you, but college is an extremely challenging task. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find your mind wandering to sunsets at Waterrock Knob while writing essays on political philosophy or taking an economics test. During those anxiety-filled times at your new home, you’ll find yourself looking back wishing you could just take a drive with the windows down on the Parkway or some Forest Service road. 

If you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a replacement around you to recharge, but nothing will compare. Having a home that you’re proud of while having the time of your life in college is a strange and often contradictory experience. You can’t wait for breaks while at school and while at home you can’t wait to be back at school. 

If this article finds you, let me challenge you. Go outside today. It doesn’t matter if there’s rain in the forecast, we all know summer showers in the mountains blow over just as quick as they roll in. Find somewhere new every week until you leave. Every time you find that new place in these beautiful mountains you’ll think: “this is it, my new favorite spot.” Until next week, when you find something even more breathtaking.

I know things are different for your class with everything going on. You didn’t get the graduation you always pictured, but remember this. Be proud of your home. I know these words may fall on deaf ears, because I was just like you, so excited to leave that I couldn’t even begin to appreciate the place I was leaving. But I promise you, as soon as you leave, it will hit you: your home is heaven on earth, with a million and one things to do. So before you leave, grab your friends, pack a lunch and head to the hills. And don’t forget towels. There’s always somewhere to swim. 

(Liam McLeod is a senior at UNC-Charlotte. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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