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  • Writer's pictureIsa Luzarraga

The Lady Bird Effect: How returning to our hometowns as college students changes perspectives

“‘Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?’

‘You are from Sacramento.’”

The first lines of Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age film, Lady Bird, reflect a common sentiment — at least, one among teenagers. Just replace “Sacramento” with “Nebraska” to relive conversations I had with my parents before moving to Boston for college. “I wish I could live through something,” main character Lady Bird says.

As high schoolers, we harbor indifference, even disdain for our hometowns while yearning for change, adventure. We imagine ourselves in a different place, emotionally and physically. “I don’t even want to go to school in this state anyway. I hate California. I want to go to the East Coast.”

As if a transition to college, a simple change in location will elicit a more sophisticated version of our persona: an adult, ready to begin their life. “I want to go where culture is… like New York or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire where writers live in the woods.”

But by the end, after Lady Bird goes to college, her illusion is quickly shattered. Lady Bird displays how this fantasy is naive — how we never really leave behind who we are or where we’re from.

In leaving our homes and going to college, we are finally able to value our origins. Before leaving for college, I felt somewhat ashamed of my home state. Fly-over, corn-filled, dogmatic, conservative, all of these adjectives certainly fit Nebraska. When I’m alone at home, I’m simply alone. Being in Boston, I can be lonely but never quite alone; I am always surrounded by people.

Perhaps this experience made me realize how shallow my shame was. Cities are always prided for their diversity, their demographics like patchwork quilts, and while I lacked that in my hometown, I had an irreplicable sense of community, nature, and grit. I like that my square of fabric is different from my peers. It makes a more beautiful quilt. Pranay Mathur, a freshman at the University of Southern California, too identifies with the film more since leaving his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

“It’s one of those films that makes you laugh and admire your stupidity, curiosity, and free-spirit,” Mathur said. “[Lady Bird] wants to belong somewhere and for a lot of people, that doesn’t come until after college. I love the film for expressing the fact that it is okay if you don’t know who you are just yet… You will.”

Of course, the transition is never seamless. After arriving in New York, Lady Bird gets drunk, almost overdoses, and is eventually hospitalized for a short period of time.

“Every student has those weeks or months where they are trying to adjust to their new home. It can be easy for some and jarring for others,” Mathur said. “I definitely felt homesick for a little bit, but I realized that I made the decision to come out [to LA] for a reason. I’ve taken time to see life in a different way and to breathe in all of the beautiful moments that pass me by.”

Sometimes it’s at our lows when we have the clearest perspective.

“‘You clearly love Sacramento.’

‘I do?’

‘You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.’”

Like Lady Bird calling her mother from New York and confiding in how much she misses driving through Sacramento, perceptions of anything, a place, a person can change with distance. As eager as we are to escape our past selves or situations, the yearning for acceptance can be paralyzing.

As one of Lady Bird’s school priests puts it: “We’re afraid that we will never escape our past. We’re afraid of what the future will bring. We’re afraid we won’t be loved, we won’t be liked. And we won’t succeed.”

Ultimately, knowing we have a place to call home assuages the fear that follows change.

“Being away from a place that I was so comfortable in allowed me to chip away at my boundaries and reinforce my own identity as an independent person,” Emerson College freshman and native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Sophie Severs said. “[My identity] has been strengthened by my change in location. I have become more assertive in knowing what I want.”

“It’s part of the [college] experience—you get to decide who you want to be,” Severs continued. “You can create your own identity and start over again if you need to. I think that it’s a really beautiful thing.”

Omaha to Los Angeles and Winston-Salem to Boston, Mathur and Severs agreed that leaving their cities initiated significant personal growth. Similar to Lady Bird, many first-time college students share the experience of gaining perspective because of a change in location — and that gained perspective helps them reconnect with their hometowns.

(Image by Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash, Edit by Isa Luzarraga)


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