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Olivia Avery ~ Grad Reflection

This may be hard for some of you to imagine, but when I came to campus in the fall of 2019, I was an extremely shy and not very confident-in-myself freshman. I remember the first night in my dorm, I had my first real panic attack. I had no idea how I was going to get through the next 4 years in this unfamiliar environment, let alone 4 days.

That first weekend, I knew I wanted to go to a Pres House worship service. I learned about Pres House through my church at home, and even though my family only went to church on holidays, as a newly minted adult, I wanted to explore faith more. When I walked through those chapel doors for the first time, I was instantly overwhelmed. And like many other nervous freshmen walking in, I sat in a pod by myself and prayed that no one would sit near me. To my dismay, Taya, who some of you may remember, came and sat next to me right away. We spent the time before service covering all the typical small talk conversation starters, including: Where are you from? What’s your intended major? Where are you living? Etc. We got to the end of service, and in typical Tito fashion, I was crying. I realized how homesick I was and how nervous I was for the coming weeks. When service was done and Taya invited me downstairs for dinner, I lied and said I had plans and walked out to continue crying in my dorm room.

Even though I left my first service crying, I kept coming back, and after my first few weeks of attending, Erica kept approaching me and pushing for me to join Freshman Connection. I was hesitant at first because a pre-med club met at the same time, and that seemed way more important. However, Erica finally convinced me. And I can’t express my appreciation for this group and our time together enough. I was nothing like the extroverted person that I would describe myself as today – outside of classes, Pres House was the only place where I tried to connect with other students. I can’t imagine how lonely I would’ve felt that year, had I not joined Pres House.

I don’t think anything could summarize our community better than our slogan, “Bring all of who you are.” These past four years, I have felt free to evolve and become more fully myself. Pres House has been a pillar for me through many different phases of my college career, from when I was more introverted and stayed quiet during Freshman Connection meetings to now when I’m regularly screaming “BLITZ” in the lounge, among other things.

I think this is due to our emphasis on creating an environment that fosters deep, meaningful connections. People in our community truly care about one another, and I think that is something that can be hard to find on college campuses. In my experience, this community has supported me through many different challenges. I remember getting a card from my Freshman Connection group after my grandfather passed away during freshman year. Y’all heard my endless complaints about physics and some of you painfully tried to help me understand what I wasn’t getting. Some of y’all learned about my heart condition before my mom even did. I received a flood of texts in support before and after my MCAT exam. So many of you have been a support for me through my process of grieving after I lost my friend this past summer. I can’t express my thanks to all of you enough, because you are part of the reason Pres House is the magical place it is.

So as I walk out those doors for the last time for a while, my final piece of advice that I would offer all of you — and you have to listen because I am your honorary grandma — is to be brave and go deeper. If you would’ve told me when I was in high school that a faith community would be the most important community to me during college, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I can positively say that walking through those doors almost 4 years ago is one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I urge you to continue making new connections with intention. Continue to be welcoming and connect deeply with everyone who walks through our doors.

Olivia — a.k.a. “Tito” — is graduating with a B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies and Certificates in Global Health and Disability Rights and Services.

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