Belonging can be found nearby

Isabelle Paley | The Chronicle

Seniors, as we enter our last semester of high school, I know that all of us are counting down the days until graduation. We’re ready to leave our high school days behind and start a new life, in a new school, and for some, a new state. My first class at Mason High School was senior homeroom. We went around the room, sharing our names and one thing that we were excited about for this upcoming year. And overwhelmingly, the most popular answer was “leaving Ohio.” A year ago, my answer would have been the same, except it would be Washington and not Ohio. But once I was forced to leave my hometown a year earlier than planned, I realized how much I truly loved that state.

Senior year is full of exciting milestones, but on the first day when you’re only looking forward to leaving, you miss the experiences that are right in front of you. In Washington, I planned to go to college somewhere exotic like California or Hawaii. I wanted to get away from the town that watched me go through the awkward phase of adolescence or the one grocery store that all the kids would go to after school. Freshman year, I made going to UCLA my whole personality. I wanted to trade the constant cover of rain for the never-ending sun. However, when I was forced to leave Washington due to my dad’s job, I only wished I spent less time daydreaming about leaving and more time appreciating what I had.

I was so prepared to leave the Evergreen state but once I was free from it, all I wanted was to go back. I missed the rain I used to complain about so much, sitting in the rush hour traffic in Seattle, or seeing a Starbucks on every corner. I missed the evergreen trees that lined the streets or stepping out on my deck and seeing Mt. Rainier every day. I never expected to miss a place so much, but once I was left was when I truly understood how wonderful it was.

So as May 1st comes around, and you start to choose where you are going to spend the next four years, stop and think for a moment, “Is leaving Ohio going to be the best thing for me?” If your answer is yes, that’s great, and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. But if there is one ounce of hesitation. If you thought for one moment you were going to miss Cincinnati, consider staying. Going to Ohio State or Miami is not going to be the biggest mistake of your life. It’s human nature to find comfort in familiar things, and staying in the familiar territory might be the best thing for you. Because I would have never known that a state I wanted to escape from is now the only place I want to be.

So before you make that final decision, think about my story. Your favorite place could be right and front of you, and you wouldn’t notice until you moved miles away. I would give everything for another year in Washington, so please don’t take for granted what you have, because once you leave, it’s going to be difficult to go back.