My family moved to Maine the summer before I started high school. I had spent most of life among the skyscrapers of Chicago, where anonymity was expected in the bustle of city crowds. Yet I felt very connected to my city. I was there when the Sears Tower was rebranded as the Willis Tower and when crime rates reached all-time highs and all-time lows. I was there when Barack Obama ran for president. I found a particular pride in surrendering myself to Chicago—the very things associated with Chicago were folded into my own identity over the course of a decade. Yet, as we packed the car and drove east that summer day, reality turned to memory and the skyline merely a reflection in the rearview mirror. Those parts of my identity I had grown with, come to love and cherish like an old friend, suddenly felt useless.
As I fluttered through high school, I was forced to confront the parts of myself that were rooted in the city of my childhood, the place I had long called home. My identity adapted as I became interested in the mannerisms of my peers, yet part of me always felt estranged from Maine. The state was my place of residence, not my home. I was unable to cultivate the same sense of belonging among the rolling hills and quiet nights of rural Maine that I associated with the hectic city streets. I felt like a person caught between two worlds, neither of which I could fully understand anymore.
When it came time for me to apply to college, my heart was set on the idea of escaping. I wanted to go somewhere and make it mine. I felt a profound desire to cultivate an emotional connection to a place, to feel a sense of pride for my home once again. Yet, there was an indescribable force keeping me from leaving. When I was admitted into Bowdoin, it was as though Maine had chosen me, pleading me not to cross its borders into unfamiliarity. For the first time, my heart didn’t feel as though it was being pulled in a multitude of directions.
I can still remember vividly the emotions I encountered during my Orientation Trip. My world had become focused on the small towns of central Maine—I had never before experienced the beauty and individuality of communities such as Vinalhaven. The foreignness of a fishing community with just over 1,000 residents struck me. The island came to represent the epitome of loveliness, something previously a mere figment of my desires. And in this dream world, all the locals had some connection to my hometown a few hours inland, a shared experience that immediately linked us despite being strangers. I felt known and understood, as though my experiences were valid. On the ferry ride back to Rockland, it felt as though something inside of me had switched. Those few days on the island helped a lost sense of pride blossom within me.
At Bowdoin, being from Maine is central to my identity. It is a point of intrigue, something that people respect and appreciate. Here, I don’t have to come from generations of Maine residents to be considered a “Mainer”—the social rules of belonging don’t apply. I am part of the community, and the community is a part of me. There is nothing fancy to it.
Until recently, I truly believed that my acceptance to Bowdoin meant Maine had chosen me. It was a way for my state to validate my residency, an attempt to make me hang around. Yet, I have come to realize that when I made the decision to attend Bowdoin, Maine did not pick me—I picked Maine.
I was driving back to Waterville to see my family. Summer had faded and fall was once again a familiar friend. The leaves were slowly changing, a subtle coolness infecting the warm air. The sky exuded a pure, golden, untouched glow. As I pulled on to Maine Street, I felt a smooth breeze through the window, filling my lungs with fresh air. I felt a rush of luck, to be in this place with these people. The Androscoggin rushed under the bridge to Topsham, and Brunswick took the stage in my rearview mirror. I continued forward, no longer with the pressing desire to feel the comfort of home—I had been home all along.
Nora Greene is a member of the Class of 2022.