Have you ever walked into a room of 105,000 strangers completely on your own? If not, let me tell you a few of the emotions that might run through your mind: sheer and utter fear, discomfort, shock and the sense of feeling smaller than you ever have in your life. These thoughts all ran through my head when, in September 2011, I stepped foot into Ohio Stadium for the first home game of the season.
My first game was probably a different experience than many people’s because when I was a freshman, we were still on the quarter system. Under the quarter system, our classes began in the middle of September, a month later than they do now. This meant that move-in day was mere days before the first game of the season for students. As an out-of-state student from Chicago, who knew next to no one on this campus and whose roommates had not purchased tickets for this game, that meant that from the minute I stepped on campus, I had about a week to find people to go with.
My initial decision was to just not go. To succumb the innate fear of being alone that had limited my experiences for so many years prior to college. I woke up the morning of the game with this mindset, but then something incredible happened: I looked out of my bedroom window in Morrill Tower.
There are certain moments in life that remain etched in our brains in such detail that we can recall them down to the smell of the room at the time they occurred. I lived in a four-person room with three other freshman boys, so I have chosen to bury that smell aspect of this particular memory, but I will never forget what I saw when I looked out of that window, because quite frankly, it changed my life.
I saw people. People everywhere. Of all ages, genders, cultures and walks of life. These people made up a sea of scarlet and gray so dense that I could not see an inch of sidewalk in my entire plane of view. I immediately went to my closet, put on the single Ohio State T-shirt that I owned at the time, and walked out of the door. As I rode the elevator down with ticket in hand, the nerves began to set in. I realized that I was about to walk into this massive stadium completely alone and watch this game. I had no idea how inaccurate that thought would sound to me a mere three years later.
Looking back on that day, I realized something important that I could not have known at the time: I was not alone. I was walking into Ohio Stadium and watching this game with family. I sit here and write this now as a senior, and although many underclassmen might roll their eyes at that statement, to me, it is a beautiful truth that I have slowly realized throughout my years at The Ohio State University.
There is something special about this place that I think goes unappreciated far too often. It is very easy to take all of the beauty of the tradition of this school for granted while attending. The casual “O-H” and football games at one of the largest stadiums in the world become second nature to us somewhere along the way. And I admit, I have been guilty of neglecting this beauty many times. I have assisted in preaching the common message that screaming “O-H” or responding “I-O” while out on campus makes you look “like a freshman.” But now that I am mere weeks away from officially graduating, it is truly hitting me. All of these things that we experience every single day do not exist at every university. In fact, I have visited five other Big Ten schools on gamedays and none of them can even compare to the unity that comes with this school.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Take all of this in while you can. Four years seems like a long time and it can become easy to let the everyday beauty of this school go unnoticed. But I can personally tell you those years fly by like you would not believe. It seems as though too many of us don’t realize how rare the tradition of this place is. Most other schools do not aggregate in mass numbers to jump into a near frozen lake in the middle of the winter in the Midwest. Most other schools do not have their football team come and face the student section while a stadium of 110,000 people puts their arms around each other’s shoulders to sing a school song in unison at the end of every home game. And most schools do not have a simple two-letter proclamation that can be made and met with a response, and most times, a friendly conversation, from the streets of Chicago to the top of the Eiffel Tower (both of which have been experienced by me personally or by close friends).
This is not just a school. These are not just traditions. And we are not just classmates and peers; we are indeed family.