I’ll never forget the first time I made the drive. Growing up in suburban Seattle, the little former railroad town nestled amongst hills uniquely created millennia ago by forces still beyond my comprehension might as well have been on the other side of the world. To say that I had never been somewhere so remote before that weekend my junior year of high school would be a disservice to the word “understatement”.
Even at night, when my mom and I made the trek, you can tell how far away you really are. You almost have to turn off Interstate 90 after the Columbia River and just ... trust it. Trust that this is, in fact, the right road and that there is, in fact, a major research university with students numbering in the tens of thousands on the other end. I had been put at ease by my mom, class of a year during the Ford administration, that we were headed the right way, lack of a Mapquest print out be damned.
She actually had business on campus that Friday and left me in the trusty hands of an enthusiastic tour guide, a junior majoring in some subject I’ve long since forgotten. He thought a quick trek to the top of the Terrell Library for the view would be a good way to start things off. As we reached the railing, I looked over the vast hills and Moscow Mountain in the distance and thought:
“What the hell am I doing here?”
You, dear freshman and newly minted student of Washington State University, may be thinking the very same thing. What are you doing in a place so far from everything that you could run a literal marathon in any direction and only find yourself in a town made of a speed trap or the place I affectionately call Idaho Pullman? Why did I go to school somewhere so far from everything I’ve ever known and loved? What could have ever motivated me to come here?
I won’t lie to you and tell you things are going to be easy from the outset. Pullman will take some adjusting to. Then again, so will being responsible for yourself in what seems like practically every facet for the first time in your life. There’s no running home with your laundry on a Tuesday evening; no parent coming in to wake you up to drag you to school or remind you to do your homework. You’re going to be eating at the dining hall so the cooking’s done! But you’ll have to go for something other than the pizza and burgers on a nightly basis, lest you put on those pounds that, ahem, some of us, uh, have never lost. No one I know though.
Gradually, you get into the groove of things. You’ll actually make it to Com 101 and, through one blood shot eye and a hangover unlike any you’ve ever experienced, ace that quiz. You’ll get your laundry done on that Tuesday night, though your parents will be horrified to know you just threw everything in on cold and called it good. You might make it to the rec once or twice a week with those guys from down the hall on your floor who you have a couple classes with.
Then, something really, really amazing happens: Pullman starts to grab you. You’ll see, really see that sparkling sunset that sets the sky on fire and bathes the trees and water towers so gently in early fall light. You’ll take a deep breath of that subfreezing morning air in the winter and feel it flow into your lungs, seeming to linger for minutes on end. You’ll bond with the people around you as relationships, both friends and romantic, grow more intense more quickly as you’re left with little more to do than be with one another and make decisions you could never, not in a million years, get away with at home (I only regret one of those 2 a.m. Crunchwrap Supremes from the Moscow Taco Bell, for the record).
That is the really and truly special thing about Pullman: there’s just no place like it to go to college. The secret is everyone, and I mean everyone, is outside of their comfort zone and they’re looking for people, just like you, to lean on and bond with. The common lament from those who never went to school in Pullman is that there’s just nothing to do. I’m here to tell you that is precisely what makes it so special.
Pullman, unlike any other place you could have chosen to continue your education, will transform you. Take it from a former timid freshman afraid to leave his room except to go to class around this time 13 years ago: you will not leave Pullman the same person you came to it as. You’re going to grow and change in ways you do not even know yet. It won’t all be easy, but it will be an incredible experience, end to end. It will be one you don’t ever want to end.
Welcome to the best four damn years of your life. Do not take it for granted.
I’ll never forget the last time I made the drive as a student. Packing the car went slowly, cleaning the apartment even more so. The route out of Pullman I took was circuitous to say least; laps around College Hill, campus, and through downtown with a quick drive down Grand just to see Dissmore’s for good measure.
Finally, I turned onto Davis Way for the drive up the hill and out of town. I didn’t know when I would be back, but I thought I would be. I just had to ... trust it. Trust that I could make it back for a football game; trust that a friend still in school would send a text imploring a visit for a weekend for a Super Basket and 80s Night.
I crested the hill onto 195 and Pullman faded away, a song playing on my stereo I’ve long since forgotten. As my car belted towards Colfax, I looked into the distance, rolling hills and barns on each side and thought:
“Why the hell did I ever think about going anywhere else?”
Welcome home, Class of 2023. Welcome home.