My Best Dream: Caitlin Gailey’s Senior Column
Have you ever woken up smiling from a dream? One so great you swear it was real, but as you reflect you realize you aren’t able to recall much. Instead you’re left with this unexplainable gleefully happy feeling.
Penn State is my dream, and although I wish I could remember every detail, every seemingly monumental moment, the enormity of the past four years has rendered me speechless. Instead, I’m left with flashing moments of consequence that have ingrained themselves into my mind. I’d love to share a few of them with you to help you understand my journey to where I am today, three days from graduation, waking up from the best dream.
The first is the day I chose to come to Penn State — cliché, I know. But if you asked high school me where I would end up one day, Happy Valley would not have been my answer. Although I’m part of a Penn State family (hi Dad), I was stubborn and determined not to follow in his footsteps. Four years later, we’ll not only be alumni of the same school, but I am pursuing his profession and I only hope I’m growing to be a shred of the person he is.
My next clear memory is moving into my second freshman year dorm. In the middle of winter, my four best friends and I packed all my belongings into a blue rolling cart and relocated to the newly renovated South Halls. The first night my new roommate and I slept in 303 Hibbs Hall, I was filled with anxiety. What had I done? I completely uprooted my life and moved in with someone I hardly knew and to be honest, she kind of scared me. Little did I know moving in with Mary-Elaine Decavalcante would be the best decision I made at Penn State. Med, you are not only my roommate, my best friend, and my Siamese twin, but you’re undoubtedly one of my soul mates. Thinking about moving away from you is literally unbearable, but I know it isn’t forever. I will always be so grateful and feel so lucky to be part of your life.
Sitting in a stuffy classroom in Willard, I made my first college friend. Sometimes life has a funny way of making sure you meet the people you need and Christine Sibley is definitely one of them. It may have taken us a few weeks to realize, but we scheduled three of the same classes…back to back to back. Who would have thought a simple, “Hey, aren’t you in my theater class?” would turn into what we have now. Since then, we have scheduled classes together every semester and I know I wouldn’t be graduating without your help. Christine, thank you for being one of my best friends but also for the countless Monday meetings. You’re going to do big things.
That same semester I decided to submit an application to write for a student news organization. I’m betting you can guess which one. As a freshman, I got to learn from some of Onward States greats like Noel Purcell and Tim Gilbert. They taught me it’s important to have a voice and this outlet is a great way to make it heard. Although she definitely doesn’t know it, Melissa McCleery was the person who taught me intelligent, passionate, driven women can be in a sorority and she is partially the reason I rushed sophomore year. As fate would have it, without ever knowing which one she belonged to, we both ended up in the same chapter.
Choosing to join that sorority has brought me the best second family I could ever ask for. I realized this sprawled out on an apartment floor on a Friday night with three tubs of ice cream split between five girls. I had a nasty case of double pink eye that even my glasses couldn’t hide. Jess, Shanna, Jules, Alex, and Brittany, thank you for always making me feel loved, even at my worst.
A few months later, I stood in Beaver canyon swarmed by thousands of students celebrating our impossible defeat of Ohio State. It was in that moment, comforted by the sounds of “We Are” combined with detaching metal, I realized a few things. One: leaving a football game early is always a bad idea, no matter how cold you are. Two: I am lucky enough to attend the best school in the country. Three: Getting accidentally pepper-sprayed while trying to walk away from a rally really hurts.
Junior year was also the year I fell in love in a dirty booth in the Rathskeller. After a particularly bad night, the boys of 709 Nick Towers dragged me out of my apartment and forced me to join them for one drink and one drink only. We all know how that goes. A few more drinks and heart to hearts later, we were undeniably closer, mostly because I cried in the bar. I will definitely never be able to muster the words to describe how these people have affected my life so to Stigs, Balch, Drucker, Cody, and George, I just have one thing to say. You’ve changed.
Although there are a dozen fresh memories of senior year I will always cherish, there is one I certainly won’t forget. This year I returned home for Easter and after dinner, my sister asked my parents and I to sit together so she could show us a surprise. Exhausted, we begrudgingly did as she said and held out our hands like she told us. It was on a homemade mason jar I realized the Penn State legacy had continued on and she would be calling my favorite place home this fall. To Mom and Dad, thank you for everything you have done for me the past few years. Whether that was throwing the best tailgates or always answering my calls on the walk home from class, I couldn’t have asked for a better support system. To Ryen, thank you for being the best Schmoogs and congratulations on making the best decision of your life. I can’t wait to see you continue the Gailey family legacy and thankfully you have three guardian angels and a great older cousin to show you the way.
As I’m sitting in my room at 3 a.m. writing this, procrastinating for finals, I’m nostalgic about all that college has taught me. (Unfortunately for my grades, accounting isn’t one of those things.) Nothing will ever be perfect, and it’s something I’ve not only struggled to grasp the past four years, but especially when writing this column. We can only do the best we can and in a world that is increasingly negative. Let’s focus on our highlight reel more often.
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About the Author
We dance in 275, Penn State!
We dance in 275, Penn State!
Underwood is bringing her “The Denim & Rhinestones” tour to Happy Valley next spring.
“Jana Marie Foundation harnesses the power of creative expression and dialogue to spark conversations, build connections, and promote mental well-being among young people and their communities.”