Opinion | A love letter to Alma Mater


The Daily Illini File Photo

The Alma Mater statue stands proudly with her arms spread wide on a summer day.

By Ellen Barczak, Assistant Opinions Editor

I love this University; my school, my place of growth in every dimension of my life, my happy place, my family. As I approach my graduation at the end of December, I’d like to count the ways this school has changed my life.

The University is something of a family school. Coming from the Chicago suburbs, Illinois seems to be the place where everyone goes, rendering it “basic” and, in the eyes of silly teenagers, “mediocre.” 

This institution, as far as I’m concerned, is anything but mediocre. Here, groundbreaking research is done and world changing discoveries are made. Here, countless young people have started their bright young lives, both within their tenure at the University and after graduation. 

YouTube was invented here. So was PayPal and whipped cream in a can. And let’s not forget about the incredible COVID-19 testing infrastructure implemented so we could safely spend a semester on campus, unlike most other colleges. 

I quickly realized my freshman year how special this place was (the first day, actually). I remember calling my parents and telling them it was the most magical place on earth; I felt like I made a new friend every hour. I had never had more fun in my life. I had never been so happy.

But, as it goes, time flies when you’re having fun. I am now preparing to leave this place I call home, where I’ve experienced the greatest happiness of my life. Even after settling in, after the friend-making slowed down and I found my core group, I continued to grow in the most unexpected ways. 

I learned to love learning at this University. I took calculus, horticulture, ice skating, a weather class and a geology class, not to mention the courses in my majors. I learned the value of hard work, the satisfaction that comes from mastering a subject, the importance of broadening one’s intellectual horizons. I learned to be a student of life.

I learned how to be a true friend at this University, how to love those in my life unconditionally. I met my best friend on the way to Convocation way back in August, 2017. We’ve been partners-in-crime ever since, from three hour dinners at the Ikenberry Dining Center to avoid doing our homework, to heading out to the bars, to going to church together.

I learned how to be a writer at this University. Through my tenure at The Daily Illini, I have found my voice, my passion in life and the best bunch of colleagues a person could ask for. I learned through my job here the value of working for something you believe in, something important, honest and deeply good. 

I learned what it means to be a person of faith at this University. St. John’s Catholic Chapel at the Newman Center remains my favorite place in the whole wide world (pew 14, specifically). Coming to college, I never expected to become religious; I saw no value in it. If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.

With every exam, every late night having too much fun, every minute in the chapel, every tear shed over frustration or sadness or anxiety, every kind professor, every good laugh, every loyal friend, I learned how to start becoming the person I was made to be.

In the first column I ever wrote for The Daily Illini, I talked about my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and one of my favorite quotes from it: “Youth is wasted on the wrong people.” I didn’t want to be the wrong people. 

I can happily say these years of my youth were not wasted in any way. My college experience was good to the last drop, even amidst a global pandemic, even during that GEO strike in 2018, even when the job market is less than ideal as I’m graduating. 

Future Illini, I beg of you, take advantage of your time here. Make friends. Go to parties. Study hard. Do something you never imagined liking. Become who you were meant to be.

To thy happy children of the future, those of the past send greetings. 

Ellen is a senior in LAS and the Assistant Opinions Editor.

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