The ink’s barely even dry on your diploma, and I bet you are already making some pretty bold claims about your future. I’ll also bet very few of those claims involve the city you’ve lived in for the past 18 years or so.
Right about now, there are probably hundreds of high school graduates out there promising themselves — and anyone else who will listen — that they are taking the first train out of town and never returning to their humble little suburb under any circumstances.
I made the same promise 26 years ago … and — aside for the four years I spent in college — haven’t left town since.
I’m guessing that for many of you, this is your chance to break free from the shackles of your tiny little town. And for some of you, it’s probably been a long time coming. You can’t get out of town fast enough. You’ve probably spent your entire life living in your hamlet and are anxious to conquer the bigger world that’s out there. You’re probably thinking the best view you’ll ever see of your hometown is the one in your rearview mirror.
When I was your age, I used to wonder when I’d get my chance to leave Troy for college and never come back.
Now I wonder how I ever left this place to begin with.
You see, once you leave your hometown, you are going to find a funny thing happens. You are going to meet new people — whether it be at college, in the military or as a member of the workforce — and they are invariably going to ask you where you are from. When you tell them, they are probably going to say something like, “Where is that? Never heard of it …”
And before you have a chance to even think about it, you are going to start talking. And your response will probably go something like this:
“You’ve never heard of my hometown? It’s a pretty incredible place. It’s the sort of place where you don’t bother locking your doors when you go to sleep at night and you feel completely comfortable walking around downtown long after nightfall. It’s the sort of place where if you get a flat tire and are stuck on the side of the road, a complete stranger is going to stop and help you.
“Kids tend not to get into trouble too much — not so much because they were raised any different or any better than other kids — mostly because they know if they do get in trouble, everyone in town is going to know exactly who they are and most likely went to high school with their parents.
“How could you not have heard of Troy? It’s home to the greatest high school football rivalry, bar none, in the country. Troy and Piqua have been playing for more than a century now and the tensions still run as hot now as they did 100 years ago. What’s that, you say? You come from Massillon? Sure, I’ve heard of Massillon Washington vs. Canton McKinley. Nice little rivalry you’ve got up there. Still doesn’t compare to Troy vs. Piqua. Sorry.
“You’ve never heard of the Strawberry Festival? Been living under a rock or something? It’s only the most amazing festival you’ll ever see. The strawberry doughnuts and strawberry salsa are reason enough to brave the crowds all by themselves.
“Tell you what … since you’ve never heard of Troy, why don’t you come back home with me and visit sometime? We’ll have breakfast at the Lincoln Square, lunch at K’s Hamburgers and dinner at El Sombrero. After hours, we’ll have a few drinks at The Brewery.
“Come on down for a visit — you’re always welcome. Doesn’t matter when you come; there’s always plenty to do. If you come in the summer, we’ll be sure to hit up the Miami County Fair — tenderloins and milkshakes are on me. If you come in the fall, we’ll be sure to go to the bonfire before the big game, when the whole town breathes high school football and you can actually feel the electricity in the air. Come during the winter for our Christmas tree lighting ceremony, when goodwill and charity fills the streets. In the spring, we’ll check out Brukner Nature Center or one of the Miami County Park District parks, when everything is in full bloom and you truly feel alive.
“What? That all sounds a little too folksy for you? Can’t possibly be real? Well, I can assure you, your hometown is a very real place. Sure, it may not be the bright lights and the big city, but it’s something much more than that. It’s something no other place out there could possibly replicate.
David Fong writes for the Troy Daily News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.