A few friends and I were sitting around last Thursday when my blog got brought up in conversation. My friend Ashton said she was interested to keep reading because she wanted to know “how I was going to make Emporia sound good” every week. Before I could answer, my friend Caelee spoke up: “It’s not about making Emporia sound good – it’s what’s good about Emporia.”
I couldn’t say it better myself. The purpose of this blog is not to convince people how great Emporia is. It’s a story about how I’ve grown to love this town for what it is. And in the process I’ve learned to love Kansas and the Midwest.
To understand how noteworthy this is you first need to understand how opposed to Emporia I was. As a senior in high school, I was convinced that KU was the only college for me. (My original dream of attending the Kansas City Art Institute was quickly shot down when I realized you needed a portfolio of work to be accepted, not just ambition and a can-do attitude.)
I had it all sorted out: a double major in Environmental Policy and Filmmaking, living in a hip apartment close to the adventures of Mass Street with live music every weekend. But one little thing got in the way: tuition. Long story shorter, I wound up at Emporia State.
To call ESU my safety school would be a gross exaggeration. I had never been to Emporia before, but I chose to let other people decide for me that the city was no fun and the school was underwhelming. From all that I had heard, Emporia would not be supplying me with the grand collegiate experience I felt I deserved. My first year was a collage of watching movies in my dorm room and frequent weekends back home to Wichita to hang out with my family.
Before the start of my sophomore year, I decided I had to face the facts – I was going to be at Emporia State for the next 3 years, so I better get used to it. Once you accept your situation, it makes it easier to make the most of it. I began exploring the town, going out of my way to meet new people and get involved on campus. I started a few clubs, joined a few others, and within months felt connected to my campus. All it took was a sense of investment. Had I not gotten involved I would have just been a student, walking to class and back everyday.
Now I’m a member of a community, of something bigger than just myself. My senior year is flying by and now I’m not ready to leave behind this community I’ve helped build here in Emporia. Emporia might not have changed a whole lot since I still got here, but my views of it certainly have. I now understand the idea of “small town values.” I always considered that political rhetoric used to stroke the egos of the middle class. But there is a feeling found in smaller towns like Emporia and throughout the Midwest that you don’t find everywhere. There’s a unique type of openness and personality that draws you in.
So I’m not here to convince you of anything. I just want to tell my story about a how I have stopped letting other people tell me what’s cool and instead take the time to find out for myself. It’s a lesson you can carry through a lot of situations in life: don’t judge a place (or a person) by an outer appearance. Get to know it personally and you might realize it’s got a lot more going for it than you first thought.
I’ll end today with a song. A friend of mine had spent some time in Minnesota and discovered a local rap group called Atmosphere. I was a little weary of Minnesotan rap, but I gave it a shot. Their song, “Shhh,” was the start of my interest in studying life in the Midwest. Up until this song I never thought to differentiate life in the middle of the country from life anywhere else. He touches on a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy living where I am, and you don’t hear that kind of stuff in mainstream music very often.
Check out the lyrics on the side to understand what I mean.
Some of my favorite lines-
“So if the people laugh and giggle when you tell em where you live
Say shhh, say shhh
And if you know this is where you wanna raise your kids
Say shhh, say shhh
If you’re from the Midwest and it doesn’t matter where
Say shhh, say shhh”
It feels like the Midwest feels embarrassed by itself when compared to other regions of America. We have a lot to proud of – we just need to remind ourselves of that every once in a while.