Growth & Gratitude: Alex Waterman’s Senior Column

I was tasked to write a senior column…and now I’m sitting in the Paterno Library, during my final weeks as a student, wondering how on earth I’m supposed to pull that off. 

Being cheated out of my freshman year due to COVID-19, my time as a student has always felt short and a bit rushed. 

During my first week at Penn State when students typically mingle and meet neighbors on their dorm floors, my fellow classmates and I were warned that exceeding a room occupancy of four people would result in suspension (the additional individuals had to have resided in the same building). 

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that making friends in an environment where everyone is either terrified of being reported by a TA or fearful of contracting COVID-19 and inadvertently harming family members didn’t foster the most welcoming atmosphere. 

(Also, please don’t interpret this as shaming COVID-19 protocols. I have numerous immunocompromised loved ones, and these protocols undoubtedly saved their lives.) 

Yet, as I reflect on my beginnings here at Penn State, I am reminded that I now live with my closest friends, had the chance to join incredible organizations, and truly lived my best life in Happy Valley. Being housed on campus for two years and waddling myself down to the dining halls that reeked of cooking oil every morning and night is not something I thought I would necessarily miss. 

Growing up in D.C., I was convinced I would live in an urban environment forever. The smell of cows and farmland was foreign to me unless I was visiting my aunt and her family in upstate New York. Who would have guessed that the scent of manure now triggers waves of serotonin in my body as I recall the countless treks up to Beaver Stadium for each football game?

There’s something so intimate about living in a small town — from the close proximity of each business to the familiarity of the community members. I find myself wondering are these things I am ready to leave behind? 

With almost exactly two weeks left, it is (of course) only now that I realize all the little things I took for granted. Looking out my window on Calder Avenue, trying to decipher the weather off of the outfits being worn by the people walking below, or running to the UniMart at 1:45 a.m. before it closes at 2 because my roommates and I ran out of milk for baking brownies. I knew these were special moments, but I often now ask myself, “Did I cherish them enough?”

One thing that I will cherish forever was my experience in the Bellisario College journalism program, which exceeded all my expectations. From the expertise of my professors to the opportunities provided in each of our classes, the Bellisario College never failed to make me feel a part of something significant.

I was fortunate enough to work with Bellisario advisor Jamey Perry (and if you know Jamey, you don’t even have to read the next part to understand why he’s so great because you already know). Jamey guided me through each semester with sincerity and kindness. Regardless of the situation, I knew that I could rely on him to support me every step of the way. It would be an understatement to say that I love Jamey Perry. 

Another memory I will cherish while being a student here was my opportunity to study abroad my second semester of junior year. I had always known that I wanted to do this, and my hope had been to practice Spanish, but I didn’t know where in Spain I should go. I visited the study abroad office and was greeted by friendly faces the moment I walked in the door.

By my second meeting, everyone had told me that I needed to study in Seville, which is 45 minutes away from the southernmost tip of Spain. I ended up living with a host family who spoke minimal English, and to be frank, it was terrifying and quite lonely in the beginning. I was unable to communicate my feelings for the first time in my life, and I was scared I had made a huge mistake.

But after five months of living independently, forcing myself to explore a foreign city, trying new cuisine, and immersing myself in a new culture, I realized I had grown into a completely new person. Studying abroad enabled me to connect with incredible people from every corner of the world and being able to get to know them and create a relationship with them, even though we normally live thousands of miles away from one another, was magical. The city of Seville completely captured my heart, and I can’t talk about my Penn State experience without mentioning the best five months of my entire life. 

Now, to the people in my life whom I need to thank as none of my experiences would have been possible without them. To Livi, had I been paired with anyone else as my freshman-year roommate, I’m not sure I would have made it all the way. You have shown me the true essence of friendship, and I will forever be indebted to you for the support you have provided me.

To Marie, thank goodness you switched majors! Our lives have seemed to intertwine with one another no matter what path we have taken, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. From being the best DEI co-chair ever to being my walking partner for every single Onward State meeting, I couldn’t be more grateful that we live three feet away from each other. 

And to my parents, who have supported me through every deep dive into controversial topics that I researched or written about. I can only aspire to be as educated, thoughtful, and compassionate as both of you. You recognized early on that math/STEM was not my thing (as much as it would be cool for me to say it was), and instead of shaming me for it, you encouraged me to pursue what I love most — writing. You provided me with opportunities to travel and interact with people vastly different from myself. You introduced me to injustices in the world and taught me that even as one person, I have the power to make a difference, which I must use whenever possible. 

Thank you, Penn State, for making so many of my dreams come true. I honestly cannot believe my time here has come to an end. It just doesn’t feel real (and I wish it wasn’t). 

Peace out for now blog…until next time <3 

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About the Author

Alex Waterman

Alex is a fourth-year student majoring in journalism and minoring in sociology. Her biggest accomplishment was reading 4000 pages of Game of Thrones this year, hoping her inner nerd would return. She is also extremely passionate about social issues. You can reach her at [email protected] with any comments or questions.

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