Committing to University of Michigan was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. At the end of senior year, I had everything in order. All of my college applications were in, I’d been admitted everywhere I applied, and I knew where I wanted to be. I’d aspired to attend U of M since eighth grade, when my class visited the campus and toured the buildings, and I’d worked toward that for all of high school until it paid off with an early acceptance and generous scholarships. Everything felt impossibly perfect, until my girlfriend heard back from U of M. It was crushing to work so hard together to perfect our applications and portfolios and remind each other of deadlines every week, encouraging each other and getting excited about having classes together, and then to get two very different emails and react two very different ways. The relationship was strained at best already, and the promise of getting to live in the same city after nearly a year of long-distance phone calls and letters from Texas to Michigan was one of the few things holding the relationship together. Once that conflict arose, the outcome was clear, long before either of us wanted to admit it.
I spent a few months going back and forth between options. I could settle for Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, where my girlfriend had been accepted, and we could get an apartment together. But the more I committed to that, the more wrong it felt. I’d never even heard of Grand Valley before a few months earlier, and I’d wanted to go to Michigan longer than I’d even known my girlfriend. As we planned our orientation dates and looked at apartments in Grand Rapids together, the itchy feeling of a mistake being made bothered me more and more everyday until serious rifts started to appear and widen.
I thought about maybe blowing off college altogether and just working. I looked at community colleges in Brooklyn and Chicago and even abroad just to run away from the mess I was digging myself into. I spent a weekend frantically researching minimum wage in various cities and job openings near colleges I might have been able to still apply to in March. Things got more and more tense as time went by. My girlfriend had a severe disadvantage and got rejected from most of the Michigan schools we applied to together, and was stressed out about the prospect of paying rent and out-of-state tuition to support our crumbling relationship. I tried to think of a way we could stay together if I still went to Michigan, but she stubbornly resisted living apart any longer. In hindsight, understandable: to not want to be alone in an unfamiliar city for the first year of college. The stress and conflict made it hard to see each other’s perspectives, though. Every conversation was a push-and-pull of trying desperately to find a healthy compromise and coming up empty; every time we skyped it was either a two-hour fight or a four-hour apology session. A myriad of ridiculous alternatives and compromises were proposed, each one more useless than the last, until I finally came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t happy and there was no way I would be happy with the arrangement we worked out. I wasn’t okay with going anywhere but Michigan; she wasn’t okay with living apart if we were going to stay together. Painful as it was, the choice was clear.
For a while after, I was absolutely devastated. However, with every day that passed, it became more obvious I had made the right decision. I canceled my Grand Valley orientation date and hurriedly dug up all my Michigan emails and registered as fast as I could. Every event and email and placement test drove the feeling home more that I had made the right choice. I kept waiting to regret it, but I knew I wouldn’t; I’d made the only choice I couldn’t regret. I felt bad about the way things had ended with my girlfriend, but nothing compared to picking my orientation dates and selecting classes and meeting my roommate.
Nothing drove the feeling home so much as my final day of orientation. Up until then, everything had been emails and paperwork—very official, but it wasn’t real to me until I was actually there. Spending three days in the dorms, walking around getting to know the city, learning my way around campus and seeing the place I’d spend the next part of my life made it truly feel like my future—practically my present-day life now. On the third day, Stamps students took a bus to North Campus to choose our classes and meet our advisors. I loved everything about the space immediately. I’d seen the seniors’ studios before but every time they looked slightly different and the prospect of having one to myself in time made my heart race. Being surrounded by art supplies everywhere, the smells of sawdust and paint, and people who I saw myself in made me feel at home in a way I’d never truly experienced before. I saw art all over the building that I could see myself making as well as art that looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. From any vantage point, I could find a dozen things to stare at. I wasn’t nearly as hurt over the breakup as I initially was by then, but if I’d had any doubt left in my mind that I made the right choice, I checked it at the door of the Art & Architecture building. Being the best version of yourself and living the life you’ll have the least reason to regret requires wrenching sacrifices at times, and I’m proud of having been able to make that one. I’m a better and wiser person for it, and it’s already paid off in full and many times over. Gut feelings about life decisions exist for a reason, and that one in particular was telling me something very important.