Never Say ‘No’ To Yourself: Ava Brendgord’s Senior Column

I’m not original in saying I’ve been a Penn State fan my whole life. My parents were putting me in Penn State onesies when I was a newborn and decorating our home with Joe Paterno bobbleheads and Penn State magnets since I was a kid. My family would watch Penn State football games together and cheer on the Nittany Lions all the way from Houston. It’s my dad’s alma mater, and I always knew this school was important, but I never fully understood why until recently, two weeks out from my own graduation.

There’s a reason people love Penn State so much. Besides it being a quintessential college town, it’s the first place you live on your own, where you meet your best friends, where you’re challenged, and learn more about yourself than at any point in your life before.

Now, looking back to four years ago, it’s funny that I thought I wasn’t going to Penn State. I thought it was too far from home, that I would be a thousand miles away from my family and friends, and home wouldn’t be just a drive away. The thought of moving across the country to start a new chapter of my life was extremely daunting to my 18-year-old self.

But, once I got accepted and attending Penn State became a reality, I thought about what I would miss if I didn’t go. I thought if there was a reason my dad always talks about the good old days, I must be missing something really great. I knew I shouldn’t say “no” to myself. I shouldn’t shut down the opportunity before I try. I should jump head-first into the deep end to see what would happen. It would be hard, but I had a gut feeling that something amazing was waiting for me.

In the summer of 2019, I flew out to State College to attend summer session, and let me tell you, I had the time of my life. I moved into my dorm room, met my best friend, and lived it up as a freshman in college. I knew in that first week that I had made the right decision.

Freshman year was a blur of gen eds, frat parties, and hanging out on the fifth floor of Pinchot Hall, where I met a group of friends that have become more like family over the years. I joined Onward State after a chance encounter with former staffer Dana Nunemacher, and my life changed for the better. Onward State gave me an outlet to explore the Penn State community through events and interviews. It has challenged me to become a better journalist. This blog gave me my future roommates and best friends. If I had said “no” to myself all those years ago, I wouldn’t be in my beautiful apartment (shoutout Graham Building) living with my friends, and writing my senior column reflecting on the best four years of my life.

For the past four years, my life has been split between two places. My life at home and school are very different, and each time I return back it takes adjusting to. I don’t go home often, only for breaks and holidays, but when I finally make the trips back to Texas, I would find it harder and harder to leave. Each time I would fight back tears, knowing I wouldn’t see my parents, my brother, or my dog for months. I feel like no one talks about how hard it is to leave your family when you go back to school.

However, as I make plans to move back home for the final time after graduating, I’m feeling quite the opposite.

These past few weeks leading up to graduation I’ve been thinking, “How am I supposed to graduate and just move on from my life here?” I’ve built an amazing life in this little town, and I’m supposed to move out on my own? I used to cry every time I would leave my parents to go back to school, and now I’m having the hardest time saying goodbye to my friends to go back home. The weight of starting a new chapter in my life is making it hard to say goodbye to my old one. I’m confused about what my future will hold, and I’m scared of uprooting my life to begin again somewhere else. It feels like I’m jumping headfirst into the deep end again.

But these feelings remind me of myself four years ago. They remind me just how far I’ve come.

Four years ago, I jumped in and stayed afloat. I didn’t say “no” to myself and became a stronger person for it. I’ve learned that challenging yourself to move across the country, to join a blog, to say goodbye to your family are all things that make you stronger, even if you don’t see it at first.

Turns out this heavy feeling I’m carrying is a call to say “goodbye.” Penn State was the first place I chose to live on my own and it’s the first place I’ve ever had to truly leave. But, I know I’m ready. If I can move across the country at 18, I can move to a new city to start the next chapter of my life.

My life at Penn State wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible people who have supported me these past four years.

To my parents, Steve and Jennifer, thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to send me to my dream school. Thank you for making trips up to State College to visit me. Thank you for always being there when I just need to talk. Thank you for your life lessons and advice — even if I don’t seem like I’m listening, I always am. You’ve given me everything, and I am incredibly grateful to have you as my parents.

To my brother, Jack. You have made me smile and laugh more times than I can count. I always look forward to our phone calls to catch up, and I can’t wait to see what amazing things you do.

To my Graham Girls, Beach Bums, and Barnyard Boys, you have made my life at school wonderful. You have made Penn State home, and you’re the reason it’s going to be so hard to leave. I didn’t realize how much true friendship matters until I experienced it with all of you. Let’s plan a beach trip soon.

To Onward State, thank you for being a part of my life for four years. Thank you, Gabe, for leading us and giving everyone on staff the opportunity to write about things that matter. I am extremely grateful to be a part of this blog.

None of the memories I’ve made or the people I’ve met would be in my life if I had taken the easy route to school. If I had said “no” to myself four years ago, I would never have made the jump to become the person I am today. Turns out, I needed to dive head first into the deep end to grow into the person I was always capable of becoming.

So, after pouring my heart into this senior column, I’ll leave you with this: Never say “no” to yourself because you just might miss the time of your life.

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About the Author

Ava Brendgord

Ava is a senior from Houston, TX majoring in broadcast journalism. She loves coffee and bagels, traveling, and keeping a healthy balance between watching the news and reality television. Follow her at @avabrendgord on Instagram or email her at [email protected].

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