This past week I took a much needed break from work and cashed in on some paid time off. Nearly a whole seven days without responsibility from work? Yes, don’t mind if I do. The main reason I took this time is because the Annual Latino/a Alumni Reunion was being held at my alma mater this past weekend. For those of you who didn’t know, I am a proud alumnus of The University of North Carolina. Not Greensboro, not Charlotte, THE CAROLINA. Chapel Hill, to be specific. Sorry guys, that was a small lashing out to the people who look at me crazy and think “There’s no way this down to earth Hispanic dude went to UNC Chapel Hill.” You’d be surprised how many of they look at me and I can tell that’s what they are thinking.
Carolina showed me so much and facilitated my development as a person in so many different ways.I learned to be patient, to be informed, to be open minded, and most importantly how to be myself and still take care of business. I was exposed to different cultures around campus via my classmates. I learned and grew to appreciate the African American culture more than I already did as well as learning new things about the diversity and vibrancy within the many Asian cultures as well. I also developed a new admiration and love for MY own culture at home since it was the first time I was away from my casa. So for a better lack of word, here’s my alma mater appreciation post.
In much regard, Carolina was much like a incubator for myself and those around me. When your time at Carolina comes to a close, you always come out a changed person. You come out wiser, smarter, better. I learned a whole lot in the four and a half years I spent there. Taking a step back and seeing the immense academic, social, emotional, and spiritual growth I made while there is humbling. The statement “come a long way,” totally doesn’t cover it. I have only been back to Chapel Hill twice since graduating in the fall of 2014 and moving away that following June. The first time was only a brief two day trip to celebrate on of my friend’s 21st birthday. This time around I stayed twice as long, and had twice as much to do.
So on Thursday, after two days of lounging around and running errands for family, I packed my duffle bag and headed up I-85. On the way I stopped by Greensboro to see two of my good friends whom are also co-workers. After some good burgers and a little roast session, I continued on my trek north. During the familiar drive up the familiar expressway I found myself grappling with anxiety and excitement.
“Who am I going to run into”
“Lists people I want to see”
“Lists people I DON’T want to see.”
My Heel Print.
As soon as the street signs went from green to the stunning Carolina blue, I knew I was back in my second home. I hit the ground running and before I knew it I was grabbing drinks, running into familiar faces, and catching up with my closest of friends. Now we all have that elite circle of friends we all may refer to in some variation as The Guys, My Boys, The Girls, My Mains. To me, that’s a close knit group. My boys from Carolina are special to me, not only were most of them my first real friends there, but they also all appeal to different sides of me. The musical savant, the intellect, the creative, the professional, and the big kid that I can be too, all these aspects of my personality are mirrored off of them. To have a majority of us reunited that weekend was something powerful. As we all began to graduate and to move on to greater things it became harder and harder for all of us to stay in touch. Thankfully, our groupme still keeps us in touch.
Nonetheless, for that many of us to be in the same city together was immensely rare, and I valued every minute of it. It was a grandiose event for me, and who knows when that many of us can be together again, at least with my presence too. A popular trend at Carolina was to always scope out the younger generation to befriend and help along their journey. We do this in order for them to take in the next generation to come. When my classmates and I became upperclassmen, we began taking young ones under our wing, and to now see them grow into men is simply amazing. What’s even more amazing, is how the distinct personalities and interest within our group mesh together, and that’s what makes our bond so special.
Outside of my main squad, I also made close friends through the vibrant Latina/o community at Carolina. The community gave me so many things in the beginning, and in return I dedicated my latter years at Carolina to make the community better. So I cannot continue on without expanding on OUR culture at Carolina. When I first got to school, I found a home within the Carolina Hispanic Association (CHispA) and the Carolina Latina/o Collaborative (CLC). CHispA was the fun, dance bachata, social aspect of the community. Whereas the CLC was a more professional outreach and programming office. I grew to love both and decided to take these organizations and commit to them. Eventually I ended up serving as ChispA’s President for two years and served as the Senior Undergraduate Director for the CLC my senior year. Yes, there was a lot of work, sleepless nights, and endless meetings. But it was all worth it. When I left those two organizations I not only left two completely different and improved organizations behind, I left my FAMILY behind in capable hands and that made me so happy. While in these roles on campus I met and befriended a lot of beautiful and yearning minds who looked and talked like me. I found a home away from home within the Latina/o community. So naturally, I had to come back to this reunion to see the strides the community and organizations have taken since I was there doing the things these students are doing now.
Looking back, the people I inspired to follow behind me were HUGE parts of my legacy. Yes I expanded outreach, yes I started new traditions, yes I helped put things in place, but it’s PEOPLE who put things in motion.
“I remember that one time you did this for me..”
“I remember when you told me about this job.”
“OH MAN YOU WERE THERE!”
Comments like that are what made me happy to be back.
One thing I did notice about campus were the changes. Campus life was just, different. Different persons of interest, different trends, and different places. After the books and the extra curricular activities, the social scene is what commands the time of a lot of college students. There were different go-to bars, different hang out spots. It was new to me. The places my friends and I used to hang with either are lame now or don’t even exist.
Moment of Silence for:
Tequila Tuesday at The Library
OG’s feel me.
Nonetheless I had to tell myself it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I was used to in terms of my alma mater. People kept telling me “Oh you’re not that far removed!”
Things are still changing! A lot can happen in a year and a half! This isn’t me trying to sound old and wise, I’m only 23, but it is me accepting these changes that were happening to a place that literally saw me change into a man. It holds a special place in my heart, sheesh!
Growth. (Yeah I know, reoccurring topic)
So of course I noticed changes in myself, especially when others pointed it out. An older alumni I am really close to commented to me:
“Manny you look great. You look like you’ve grown, and you are focused.”
“Hair. Wow.” (heard that one about three or four times)
Okay okay, yeah I probably seemed like a completely revamped Manny to some, but those who knew me knew that I was just focused. That word stuck out. The last time a lot of people saw me in this atmosphere I had a slick low hair cut, very nicely lined up low beard, fresh suit, the whole nine. I show up now, with this shaggy mug, distinguished goatee, and of course still a fresh suit. I guess you can sometimes express how you’re feeling about life unintentionally through your appearance. What I was expressing? That I am appreciative and that I have taken in all these lessons Carolin taught me and ran with them. I walked into that banquet the first night just happy to be where I am. Alive, employed, hungry (literally and figuratively), and overcome with the urge to communicate and learn even more.
I appreciate Carolina and all it did for me, and how it set me up for another growing phase: post college. Not to be cliche, but college is just the beginning folks. I also noticed growth within my friends and others. For example, one of my friends is gearing up to move to Charlotte for a new job. When I first met this dude 4 years ago, I got him too drunk and it literally took like four grown men to bring him back to his bed. Now, he is a senior and is going to graduate from the Kenan-Flagler Business School, one of the most prestigious school in the nation. Another friend of mine is just now starting to find his voice, he has been working for a local organization and doing programming for them. Now he is exploring his writing, (which I am stoked about), and is gearing up for what’s next. Seeing my younger friends come so far makes me want to shed a tear!! It’s why I always responded to the late night texts, listened to them vent, and just were there for them. Aside from my friends growing I noticed myself grow even more. I ran into my ex whom I haven’t really spoken to in a while and we had a nice healthy conversation, catching up and filling each other in. A year ago? No way that was happening. To come full circle and to just catch up was fulfilling, and just showed me again that growth is always happening whether we realize it or not.
So, even though everyone doesn’t take the path of going to college, I’m blessed I did and I’m glad I didn’t quit. (As bad as I wanted to sometimes) I appreciate Carolina for the people it brought into my life, the countless mistakes that eventually led to important lessons, and the multitude of skills I developed while there. I am also excited the direction my second home, the Latina/o community, is taking and can’t wait to come back later on and see even more impressive work. For more info, check out clc.unc.edu
So yeah. Simple alma mater appreciation post right?
See you at #DHOE2016 Carolina.
P.S. DHOE stands for Drunkest Homecoming on Earth. I missed it in 2015, and WON’T be missing in 2016.
Under-promising and over-delivering,