I grew up in Sacramento, the 2.5 million-person capital city of California. The city is a bastion of progressive policy, experiences only a three-month pseudo winter with average highs in the 50s, and has been named by “Time” as the most diverse city in the United States. In short, it’s about as far as you can get politically, climatologically and culturally from Montana while still being in the same country.
Originally, Montana State was not on my radar. In fact, like many of us on the West Coast, I didn’t really know where Montana was or if it was populated. I was under the impression that it was one of those states we drew out and then forgot about — only home to a population of moose and Ted Kaczynski’s cabin. But an aggressive mailing campaign by MSU drew my attention and the photos of mountains and cat statues persuaded me to apply. A scholarship offer and a stunning first visit to the Big Sky, however, won my heart.
Montana challenged me in every possible way. My four-ish years here have been a condensed coming-of-age age story. It seems everything of import happened here. While I arrived at 18, I hardly felt like an adult. But leaving home and its comfort — being a thousand miles and many hours away from any family or safety net — quickly develops endogenous independence I could have never learned in California regardless of how far from Sacramento I went. It was while in Montana that the grueling psychological demolition of school, work and self-exploration allowed me to recognize my sexuality and begin redefining my identity. I can’t imagine too many Californians have abandoned the cultural safety and legal protections of the west coast to come out as a minority in the red and misunderstanding state of Montana. It was the most difficult struggle I had endured, complicated by the denial encouraged by widely-propagated cultural pressures. That is until I was challenged by a dramatic degradation of my mental health, which wrecked the sense of independence and stability I had spent years building and threw me into the arms of a healthcare system that was largely inaccessible.
Montana is home to the most painful memories of my life, but they changed me immensely for the better. The isolation forced rapid maturation and catalyzed true psychological growth. It strengthened me to an extent that would not have been possible anywhere else. But while I’ll never forget the negative experiences, the positive ones will always be far more numerous and vivid in my memory. The friends I serendipitously met in my first week are still my closest. With my family so far away, my friends helped fill their absence. Their role in my collegiate success was as imperative as the classes I took and for their presence in my life I’m grateful.
When you get close to graduating, you become progressively and inexplicably nostalgic. Even more so when you’re moving far away. It’s a daily struggle to not cry in public, an issue surely augmented by sleep deprivation and my gastrointestinally destructive diet of candy and protein bars. But it provides a fantastic opportunity for retrospection and appreciation.
With just days to go until I waltz across the stage (I’m coming to hug you, Cruzado), I feel overwhelmingly thankful for my time here. One of the things I’m most thankful for is the MSU Exponent, the organization that taught me that impassioned involvement was far more important than engaged leadership. It’s the one activity I did every semester of college. The relationships I built over crippling laughter at 3 a.m. on production night are some of my most cherished and the skills the job taught me were more applicable to a career than anything I learned in the classroom.
It goes without saying that I’m forever indebted (both figuratively and literally) to my parents. I am tremendously appreciative of their unrelenting support and tireless efforts to improve my life — even if it is with the expectation that I’ll be funding their retirement. They have my eternal gratitude.
While I’m indescribably excited to return to Sacramento — the city that will forever be home — this state, city, its university and its people will always be held close at heart. So long and thanks for all the everything.