DEAR COLLEGE FRESHMAN


I spent all of last year reading your Senior Spotlights in our local newspaper. Our kids are younger so I don’t always know many of you personally but I still love seeing who you are, and what you love and where you are going.


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that- where you are going and what will be next in your life. As I considered it, I realized that it is time to ask something of you that our rural community hasn’t asked in a long time, maybe ever. I’m going to ask that at some point, you consider moving back to your hometown.


Not only have we not asked this of you, but we generally send you off with reasons you shouldn't come back. There are no jobs here, there’s nothing to do. No culture. Heck, there’s not even an airport within two and half hours. It’s no place for young people really. Not young people who want to DO something with their lives anyway. Des Moines is nice and not too far away. Ankeny is really growing. And there is a Target there, your parents can visit on weekends, come watch the kids play ball.


In doing this, we’ve failed you and we've failed ourselves. We’ve created entire generations of people who find themselves in their 30s and 40’s and homesick, heartsick. Thinking of "home" often and hoping that one day they might be able to retire here or have a summer house here or maybe, just maybe be able to come back and spend a few weeks a year with their aging parents if schedules allow.


I fed into this story line as much as anyone. When I was 18 I told my best friend that she couldn’t drop of university to attend community college in her hometown because she would, "get stuck like a pig in the mud.”


I was very eloquent at 18.


I didn’t realize that many years later I would find myself feeling similarly stuck. Stuck in a life that felt too busy. A place that was simultaneously too spread out and too compact. Surrounded by people but feeling isolated. Not knowing where my kids would go to school or if I would know their teachers and their friends. Wondering how they would ever have the freedom that I had growing up.

I found myself drawn back to the very place I couldn't wait to leave ten years earlier. Even though there were no jobs and no culture and nothing to do and not even a Target.


I now fit into the growing number of "homecomers" or "boomerangs", those of us who left their small rural hometown only to return after their education. The names change with each new study, but mostly we just call ourselves lucky.


I've spent the last nine years building a business and a family, creating deep friendships and falling in love with the place I've always called home all over again. I've come to realize our biggest mistake as a community has been in viewing this little community as an empty space instead of a blank slate. I can now tell you with confidence that this blank slate is the perfect place to write your own story.


Please don’t think that because you married outside of your race or religion or culture or inside of your gender or didn’t marry at all that this isn’t the place for you. Diversity brings a depth and beauty and complexity that makes every community better, and like many small towns, we could use more of it.


Please don’t think that because there isn’t a job description with your title on it that there is no opportunity here. We need doctors and lawyers, accountants, plumbers and electricians, housing developers. We have existing businesses that will soon be looking for someone to take them over and a full community looking for you to bring in fresh ideas for new businesses.


I know that this won’t be the place for all of you. I know many of you will find your happiness in cities and suburbs or other small communities across the world and in the end that is exactly what we want for each of you, to find happiness.


But over the past several years, I've watched this rural community grow and evolve in ways that I couldn't have imagined when I sat in your seat almost twenty years ago and I need to tell you that you can be happy here too.


You can choose to come home, and we hope that you will.



Kelly Bay is a speaker, writer, and business owner. She resides in rural Iowa with her husband and three kids. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys not cleaning her house and showing unwilling participants photos of her two dogs.


Find her at the next Rural Kind Co event: She Is, Women's Conference


#rurallife #ruraliscool #ruraliowa #thisisemmetsburg #iowalife #smallbusinessowner #ruralamerica

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