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A Gift Better Than Graduating

By: Jenine Omari

I visited the University of Tennessee some time during my senior year for a STEM competition/testi ng event held on the campus. Our bus drove around the corner of Andy Holt Avenue, beside what would eventually become Brown Hall. At this point in my senior year, I had already committed to UT. I wanted to live on campus, but since I was from Knoxville and my mom was stricter than most, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to. Regardless, when the bus drove by the construction of the future residence hall, my friend and I swore that we would live in there when we came in the fall. When we got back to school, I signed the housing contract, and later convinced my mom (maybe with some half-truths) to let me stay on campus. At the end of the school year, I was accepted into the Chancellor’s Honors LLC which coincidentally happened to be in Brown Hall, and I was ready to go.

Coming in as a first-year student, my goal was to get some freedom and autonomy and live like college students live. I had no idea what else to expect. I didn’t know what an average student room looked like or even know what a resident assistant was. I was so new to the concept of residential life. My siblings didn’t live on campus during their years, and my mom studied in the Middle East where university housing wasn’t a thing, especially not like it is in America. I just decided to live on campus because I wanted to have fun.

My first month on campus, I still hadn’t expanded my circles outside the friends I already knew and my roommates. I know I could’ve grown complicit in that, and while maintaining and appreciating those relationships isn’t a bad thing by any means, I personally wanted a new and different life. It came unexpectedly – I went to a meeting for a club one day (it was easy for me to show up to random club meetings because all I had to do was roll out of bed and walk), and that was my new start.

I met this boy there named Moe. He was from Nashville, and he brought some friends along that he had already met earlier that month named Hesham and Riece. They were all first-year students, and I can’t even tell recall how I talked to them of all people, but we were fast friends. Moe, Riece and I had the same introductory biology class, so naturally we began sitting next to each other during study review and class periods. Hesham and Riece played soccer in high school like I did, so we all later joined an intramural team with more friends I would meet through them a month later. Quickly after meeting those three, they invited me to study with them for exams that same month in the study rooms of Hess Hall, where Moe lived. I would meet my other all-time best friend there: Queen. I found out she also lived in Brown, and after that initial meeting, we spent nearly every single day together. When I was bored, I would take the elevator up from the 3rd floor to go bother her on the 5th floor. We even rushed the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, and I wasn’t even a business student. The pieces of these friendships just fell into place almost flawlessly. It only took a few weeks to begin spending everyday together.

I don’t think I can accurately articulate how perfect my first year became because of them and the other people I would meet of our friend group I would eventually meet. After class, we would go get something to eat (Dippers in Hess Hall was Moe’s choice of food) and do homework all day. We met up at PCB for breakfast and lunch weekly. Some of us stayed on campus during Thanksgiving break due to exams, and we played around in the nearly-empty residence halls all day, and I brought Thanksgiving food from my mom for them, and we had our own Thanksgiving in the Brown study room. We took trips together and went on spring break together. When everyone had to for winter break, every one of us met up in Nashville to spend a whole day at Opryland Hotel, ice skating, and eating.

We were even part of the second annual, unofficial UT snowball fight (we may have snuck into Neyland Stadium). When we heard about things like the snowball fight going on, we would put it in the group message, get ready and meet up on Ped Walkway within ten minutes. Friendship on campus was so easy. We went sledding at Ayres Hall and by AMB, using signs we found around campus. I pulled my first and 15th all-nighter in the Brown, Hess, or Hodges study rooms with them. I had classes with them. I joined clubs and went out for opportunities with them. I still speak to each of them and see them often, and they’re still my best friends, even though I’ve graduated. I’m even close with my freshmen year roommate, MaryBeth, to this day.

This isn’t to say I couldn’t have enjoyed this same experience had I lived at home. But it happened this way specifically living on campus. I wouldn’t have been able to hang out until 3 AM on any given day or sleepover with my best friends. I wouldn’t have been ready to hang out with them at the drop of a hat. These experiences became the foundation of our friendship, and even more so than my degree, it was the best thing college gave me.