The Beginning of the Search for Home
Twenty years. TWENTY YEARS! It has been twenty years, almost to the day, that I loaded up my things and set off on an adventure that would ultimately lead to me finding my home. Now, I have always had a home. I grew up in rural east Texas, and I never really lacked anything that I ever needed. However, there was something that just didn’t feel like it was where I was supposed to stay.
I never thought that I would go to college, but when the time came, it just seemed to happen. My best friend from high school was going to Southern Arkansas University and told me about a scholarship opportunity that they offered for certain ACT scores. I don’t even remember applying. I just remember talking to the football coaches and deciding to walk-on. That was the extent of my search.
When I got to the residence hall in early August 1998, to say I was unprepared was an understatement (I didn’t have sheets or a blanket for my twin bed). I spent the first year mostly doing what was expected of me: go to practice, to class, the cafeteria, and home on the weekends.
My second year, things changed. In the fall, I got injured and quit the football team. Without the regimen of a football schedule, it began to dawn on me that I didn’t really belong anywhere. When I would go home for the weekend or during any break, it never felt the same as it did when I was in high school. It felt like people looked at me differently, like I was a stranger in my own town. As a first-generation college student, most of my family and friends didn’t understand my new lifestyle. They joked by calling me “College Boy” because they didn’t know what else to say. When I would go back to school, I wasn’t on the football team anymore, and it didn’t feel like a place where I fit anymore. It was just something that I did. This was probably part of the reason that I ended up doing so poorly in my classes that I lost my academic scholarship (another story for another time).
I was faced with a decision: quit going to school or find a way to replace my academic scholarship. This is when my life began to change again. I became a Resident Assistant, I got a job as a student worker in the Student Life Office, I became a Hall Director, and I joined a fraternity. Later, I met the woman who I would eventually marry. This all became possible because someone mentioned to me that I might make a good RA. Once I made the decision to say yes to that opportunity, I began to find my place.
It became my mission to make as much as I could out of my collegiate experience when I became an RA. That decision has changed the trajectory of my entire adult life. As a 10-year veteran in the field of student affairs, I can look back on that one decision and truly say it has shaped me in ways that I never would have believed. I began to see the value of experiences, both good and bad. I began to use my experiences to guide others through their own undergraduate years.
As I look back at the time I have spent in a university setting, it is hard to believe that it spans the better part of two decades. But every year, around this time, I think back to that small-town kid who didn’t even know enough to bring bedding to college and wonder what adventures lie in the year ahead.
I went to Southern Arkansas University because someone mentioned to me that I might be eligible for a scholarship. I applied to be an RA because someone mentioned that it might be something I would enjoy. I joined a fraternity because someone asked me if I would be interested. There are two main themes in each of these milestones: someone showing me an opportunity and my decision to say yes.
As we start this new academic year, ask yourself two questions. Who can I help by telling them about an opportunity (fraternity/sorority, organization, recruitment event)? What opportunities can I say yes to? It may just help you or someone you know find their home.
Dustin Wolfe is the Associate Director of Student Involvement at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He considers it his purpose to help others realize their potential using their passion and his knowledge and life experiences to provide them with opportunities to be successful. Dustin has a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology and a master’s degree in Student Affairs and College Counseling from Southern Arkansas University, the home of the Muleriders.