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The Lifelong Gift of a College Roommate

Little did I know, I would meet my college roommate in my 7th grade English class. On the first day of 7th grade, Jennifer Mathews and I sat together as strangers in our class. Our teacher, Mr. Lee, quickly crowned us teacher’s pets and we became friends. Now, we were not best friends. Jenn was popular and I was friends with everyone, but not associated with any particular group. We ran in different circles.

Fast forward to high school. Back in the 90’s, we didn’t plan for college until the fall of senior year. Jenn and I remained friends, and when she said she was going to Potsdam, we talked about becoming roommates. I was extremely anxious about going to college, so it was important for me to know my roommate before college. Jenn was a great choice, and we locked each other down on our housing applications. We became inseparable the summer before college - comparing shopping lists, planning the decor for our room, dreaming about what college would be like.

Jennifer and I were roommates for all 4 years of our college experience. We were great friends and compatible, but not everything went smoothly. We certainly had those bumps in the road where we argued about me crunching cereal in the morning (I am an early bird). And, when she jumped on my bed at midnight to go for a grocery run, let’s just say I was not enthusiastic. We grew up together in college and shared so many wonderful memories together.

Fast forward 33 years... Jennifer is still there for me. When my sister, Colleen, was dying of cancer last summer, it was Jenn who texted me every day. She sent us a care package and Colleen, who was riddled with cancer and in severe pain, brightened up when she saw the package. She got out of bed and insisted on sitting on the floor to open the box. It was like Christmas morning! Not only were the gifts inside the box thoughtful and well curated, but the smile and enthusiasm it brought out in my sister was priceless. Jenn made a 6-hour trip from New York to New Hampshire to attend my sister’s funeral last September. When I saw her, I fell into her arms. She was like the comfort of home to me on that day.

Last weekend, Jenn and I (along with our husbands) had a mini-vacation in Asheville. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. We teased each other, remembered our college exploits, and disagreed on some of the events that transpired. It was such a gift to be with someone who just gets it. Someone who has lived these moments with me. There’s such a shorthand to having that person in your life. When my husband told the story about when I was young and ran out of a circus because I was (and am) scared of clowns, Jenn had been to that circus. “The one by the grocery store?” she asked. Yes, that one!, I thought to myself. My heart leapt with joy that she knew my history.

There is unspoken recognition when you are with those people who know your history. The ones you grew up with and suffered through adolescence together. You are seen and understood. There is a bond like no other.

When students ask me about choosing a roommate, I always have this advice: Don’t necessarily look for someone exactly like you. You can learn so much from someone who has a different perspective (different major, outlook on life, etc.). Make sure you choose someone who has the same goals as you do and will help you achieve them.

The choices you make together will make for fantastic stories and a lifelong friendship. That is my hope for all of our students. Find your Jenn.


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