I hated my hometown.
I am sure there are many of you who share in my resentment of my respective humble beginning. It is easy to juxtapose the massive scope of Knoxville – a city boasting more than half a million people in the greater surrounding area – to the rural hamlet of New Johnsonville, Tenn., which is decidedly more bovine across its much smaller population of 7,000 New Johnsonvillians.
As I have spent more and more time away from my quaint birth city, my perception of it and of my new home has drastically changed.
We all know of the anxiety of leaving for college. It is your first step into adulthood, from the childish dawdling of high school – chewing gum in class – to the childish belligerence of post-secondary education – again looking at you, dollar wells and Cookout.
As a high schooler, I thought college would be a highly competitive academic environment suited to the talents I thought I had. I was a big fish aching to rid myself of the small puddle constraints of Waverly, Western-Most Settlement of Middle Tennessee. (That's what the locals say.)
College, my idea of my hometown's polar opposite, seemed like the only escape from a place I felt was perpetually decreasing my potential.
After I sank into my first lecture hall seat, however, I found a glaring flaw in my logic.
I knew nothing.
Chemistry, physics, western civilizations, genetics, biochemistry. Nothing. I knew not one single significant piece of information about any of them.
My professors had made paramount discoveries in their respective fields, and I could barely find PCB to get my daily dose of macaroni and cheese with a side of that day's mystery meat.
It was a crippling shift from feelings of erudition to feelings of complete ignorance in a matter of a few dreadful clicker questions. The transition crushed my ego faster than getting passed by one of the elderly marathon runners on the track at TRECS.
Awash, I went back to my puddle, hoping no one had realized I was returning with a less than stellar freshman GPA instead of the key to the city of Knoxville.
But instead of returning to peoples' snickers and jives at the prodigal son, I was welcomed home with encouragement and understanding. Friends – who I had previously slighted – welcomed me back with the very grace I had once considered "small town."
It was at that moment I realized, despite the wealth of knowledge I had acquired 250 miles away, home was where I learned what was truly important: identity.
I would not be who I am without my hometown, a place that will always teach me humility no matter how many miles away I travel.
The fact that many other students had a much rougher upbringing than I faced does not escape me; I respect the more justified desires to leave a place.
However, I hope all the students who resent where they spent their formative years because it "held them back" learn easier than I did that an education can never make you too good for the people who taught you what good really means.
Take advantage of the opportunities you have been given here. Of the more than 14 million undergraduate students in the U.S., only a tenth of that figure have the privilege to attend one of the top 50 – and soon to be top 25 – public universities.
In fact, 226.5 million Americans have never attended any form of post-secondary education.
Instead of bemoaning the serenity of your home, take note that without your humble origins, you may not have gained the immense advantage you have before you at one of the best institutions in our nation.
Turns out that puddle you so desperately wanted to escape is a lot deeper than you ever imagined.
Chase Parker is a junior in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology. He can be reached at email@example.com.