I had no idea where I wanted to go to college. All I knew was that, eventually, I’d end up at one of the universities in my home state of Michigan. During my senior year of high school, when one of my best friends invited me to go with her to Michigan State University (MSU) to visit her brother, I saw it as a chance to check out one of my options.
By the time we left, my decision was made. I’d be a Spartan.
It’s hard to describe until you’ve been there. The camaraderie, the sprawling, picturesque campus, the energy of students teeming throughout it. Everyone I met was friendly; everywhere we went we were welcomed without question. People joke about how some places possess an “energy” that is intoxicating, like New York City, and East Lansing is one of those places. It pulls you in and pulsates until you cave to it, and once you do, you’re part of the family.
When I look back on my life, I can drill down to one decision as the most impactful: going to Michigan State. Much of the good that has happened in my life threads back to MSU. It afforded me an education, of course, but it gave me so much more.
When I moved across the country to San Diego and knew only a handful of people, it gave me community and a sense of belonging to see other folks in MSU gear — swapping the “Go green, go white” greeting with unabashed enthusiasm. As my career unfolded, the connections I made on campus allowed me to make big leaps that may have otherwise felt impossible. And, most importantly, the friendships I made on campus have enriched my life many times over, and a number of those friends are still irreplaceable mainstays in my life today. I’m sure many alums feel this way.
Student recounts escaping through window during mass shootingFeb. 14, 202307:09
People say college is the best time of your life. I’d argue they are both right and wrong — we find joy in all the changing chapters of our life, but what I think they’re really saying is that college is formative. I remember my first day on campus, once my parents had left and I sat with my roommates on a bench outside of our dorm, looking up to the sky with the excitement that I was finally on my own. Those years, we start becoming the more assured versions of ourselves.
Part of what makes Michigan State so unique is the breadth of it, that you can find a Spartan at every far corner of the world, given how many students walk its campus each year. MSU is home to an average 50,000 students, making it one of the largest universities in the country. That’s why the shooting on Feb. 13 was in part so devastating — because there is so much connective tissue to it. Even on the periphery, there is surely a vast tapestry of people broken by what happened, myself included.
That MSU experience — that haven, that joy — has been grossly violated. A gunman took the lives of three students, injured five more and caused unimaginable damage to a community. MSU students will no longer be able to do the things we did so freely years ago — walk the campus safely, go to class without checking for the exits. Thinking about how their precious years of college will now be restricted under the grip of fear is heartbreaking.
Every mass shooting is devastating in its own right — be it in a movie theater, grocery store or at a music festival — but a college campus feels like a different kind of pain. School shootings are some of the most frustrating, the most gutting. Thinking about college kids on the cusp of stepping into their own and doing great things only to be interrupted by gunfire stings in an uncomfortable way. These students are starting to make the choices that will shape who they are — dating the right person, picking a major, finding independence and purpose. This is what they should be worried about, not gun violence.
Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner will never get to wear their bright green cap and gown, never cheer again from the bleachers of Spartan Stadium. Scores more students will spend the remainder of their college tenure looking over the shoulders on campus, questioning when something else might happen. It’s not how college should be, not how this time in their life should be. They, and all college students, deserve to have the same great memories that I do.
Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner will never get to wear their bright green cap and gown, never cheer again from the bleachers of Spartan Stadium. Scores more students will spend the remainder of their college tenure looking over the shoulders on campus, questioning when something else might happen.
This May, I will have graduated from Michigan State University 17 years ago, but I still drag friends out to watch basketball games; I still try to get up to campus once each year for football and tailgating; I still shout “Go Green” to a passerby when I see the Spartan emblem. Once you’re a Spartan, you always are, and if I know this large family we’re a part of, it’ll come back stronger.
When I decided to be a Spartan, my mom asked my dad to try and talk me out of it so I’d take advantage of scholarships offered from other schools. His response? “She wants to be a Sparty.” I am, and like so many of us, always will be.