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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024
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Senior Column: Why saying goodbye to Mercer feels just a little different

“Bear Crossing” graphic
“Bear Crossing” graphic

I would say I’ve been relatively good at saying goodbye my whole life. I moved frequently during my childhood, and on my last day of high school, I blasted music and tore out of the parking lot faster than I ever had that year. I had no regrets. I’m a big subscriber to the idea that the past is the past, and the future is where you’re going, so don’t look back. It’s pretty easy for me to keep moving forward.

But saying goodbye to Mercer feels just a little different for me. Here’s why.

Something I love about my “Mercer story” is that it almost didn’t happen. The summer after my freshman year, I had some significant financial and family issues that nearly prevented me from returning to college. It came to the point where I considered giving up, dropping out and starting any job I could get to keep myself afloat.

There’s nothing wrong with doing that, and if I had, things might have still turned out fine. But there was a gnawing feeling deep in my chest that told me it would take me a very long time before I could even begin to think about going back to school again if I gave up and stepped back. I felt like I had to stay the course.

One night, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and decided to plunge into another semester. I tried not to think about the debt I was accruing and hoping it would eventually pay off in the end. (Spoiler alert: it did.)

During that time, though, I felt completely alone — more alone than I had ever felt, in fact. But when I returned to Mercer that fall I looked around and realized that I wasn’t, and never would be again.

My professors, my co-workers, my fellow students, and friends — those people quickly become like family to me. In my time at Mercer, I’ve literally had professors help me search for part-time jobs. I’ve had professors who have fed me at times, people who made sure I walked home with leftovers from school events and those who refused to let me pay for my coffee, no matter what (Thank you, Meg).

Katie Atkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of The Cluster, Mercer University’s student newspaper. Photo by Rylee Kirk

These were the people who helped me search for housing, the people who gave me advice and the people who continued to give me advice — even when I didn’t take it the first time. That’s what’s special about this place — the people.

Of course, I learned a lot, too. I learned about what it means to care about your community and what it means to embrace your heritage and also want better for the South. When I was younger, I tried to hide my southern accent, but during my reporting at the Center for Collaborative Journalism, I found that my voice was something to be celebrated and that I sounded just like the people I was reporting on and for. I learned about what it meant to be “service first” and brought that thinking into my own journalistic work. I learned that caring deeply made me a stronger, better journalism student, and a better human, too.

As I prepare to move to Maryland for my new job in just a few short weeks, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be leaving a huge chunk of my heart right here in Macon, Georgia. It’s not lost on me how much I’ll miss the simple things: grabbing a ginger tea at Z Beans (R.I.P. Jittery Joe’s), walking through the campus on early fall mornings, opening my door to see Washington Memorial Library right across the street, and even getting ink on my fingers after picking up a new batch of freshly printed newspapers.

I’ll miss popping my head into my professors’ offices, just to say hi or mull over my latest anxieties about job searching or other growing pains, and I will miss being able to exchange a friendly “go bears” to passersby at any given time.

 I’ll miss the feeling of togetherness that binds us college students — the understanding that we’ve all been through it, and that we all are also just starting out, all at the very same time.

Freshman year, we used to laugh at all the banners around Mercer’s campus that read “Here, everyone majors in changing the world.” I think I grew quieter throughout the years, realizing that there’s some truth to that saying. I definitely believe that Mercer can give you the tools to start world-changing, but you pick up some of those on your own, too. After leaving Mercer, I may be foolish for believing that I can indeed effect change in this world, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. Part of me wonders if that thought would still cross my mind had I taken a different path.

So, to the prospective students scouring Mercer websites, trying to decide if this school is really a good fit for you — it was for me. That’s the best answer I can give. For me, Mercer was a great nest to fall into. The small class sizes helped me to gain the experience I needed and the people around me graciously lent me the support that kept me going these past few years. My classes taught me that I could have an impact, and my mentors taught me that there was no limit to what I could accomplish if I just tried.

To my professors and mentors, thank you for graciously teaching me (almost) everything I know. Your door was always open to me. There was always fresh coffee to be had. You never said “I told you so” no matter how many times I made my mistakes. You never told me to limit my expectations. You mourned with me when things didn’t work out, and you celebrated with me when they miraculously did. I want you to know that I will carry your words and your humility with me everywhere I go in this life. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (And even that’s not enough!)

To my fellow students who are also preparing to walk out into the “real world,” I wish you the best of luck. I count myself lucky to have watched you grow into the leaders of this campus in just a few short years. It has been my honor and my privilege to serve you as The Cluster’s News Editor, Managing Editor, and now Editor-in-Chief. Thank you for sharing your stories and your concerns. Thank you for supporting our publication, and for recognizing the importance of student media. Life is coming at us quickly, but I know we are ready for it. We have been preparing since we first set foot on campus.

Recently someone asked me to sum up Mercer in one word, and all I could think of was “home.”

When I walk across that stage May 13, I know exactly what I’ll be leaving behind. I’m trying to commit these last few moments to memory before I go.

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