By Adrianna Owens

I’m from Stockton, California, where the homicide rate is constantly rising. I went to Amos Alonzo Stagg High School, where not even half of each freshman class makes it to graduation.

For the majority of my life, I was conditioned to believe that I was going to stay in Stockton, because that’s the norm. Because no one who leaves stays gone for long. Teachers would never utter the words, “you can be anything your heart desires.” They would never give us that false sense of security or hope.

They didn’t believe we would make it out.

People often misinterpret my meaning when I say that. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown. I love the soft serve ice cream truck that comes around my neighborhood every Friday afternoon, even if there is thick glass separating the driver from his customers. I love going to the mall, even if stores always come and go because of hard economic times. I loved going to school there, even if the books were hanging on the bindings by single threads.

I was just stuck.

Coming to Nevada for college was one of the most difficult, but most amazing decisions I’ve ever made. Sure, it’s only a three-hour drive from Stockton, but it has been more than just a change of scenery.

I was told fairly often that college changes people, that it is a freeing experience which gives people a leap into their independence. I would brush these comments off when I was younger because I figured I was just going to stay in Stockton anyway. My mom was going to do my laundry forever and I would always have my bedroom there; everything would be the same.

Looking back on my first year of college, I can say that those comments that almost have turned into clichés are true. You know of them. The phrases like, “college was the best time of my life,” and “yeah, I ate a lot of ramen but it was totally worth it.”

Because I grew up in a town where parents are afraid to let their children play in the yard, it is hard to imagine that I have gotten to experience these phrases firsthand. As stressful as taking 16 credits and working on the side is, I can honestly say that these past few months living on campus have been amazing.

Living in an older dorm with no air conditioning was, at first, an obstacle to me. Though, getting to know and care for all of my roommates has been well worth the hurdle. When I talk about Stockton with my friends here, they think it’s a terrible place. The kind of city you just drive through– no stopping to get gas.

It’s kind of ironic, actually, that even after having this great experience away from Stockton, I would stop for gas. Even if all of my family moved to another city, I would go back. Someone has to.

I started this article with a coarse perspective on my hometown, saying that it is hard to leave. While this holds true, no one should feel the need to escape. I’m not sure anymore if I would stay away after I graduate.

When I started this year, it was like a burden was taken off of me. I was away. Finally. But continuing on, I can’t keep my hometown off of my mind. I can’t help but think that the reason so many people come back after leaving is because they want to help.

My freshman year has been eye opening. Going away to college has been a step forward in stepping back. As confusing as it sounds, I needed to leave to realize that I would be okay with going back.

Someone has to be there to make a difference. If my first year of college has taught me anything, it is that I can make that difference.

Adrianna Owens studies journalism. She can be reached at dcoffey@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.