Inspired and energized by her participation in last fall’s C3 event, Cortney Phillips Meriwether ’09 wrote a blog post about her experience.
Last October, I spent a day surrounded by the electric energy of smart, confident women at my favorite place in the entire world. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the experience ever since.
You see, I went to college in a magical place. And you could tell me you feel the same way about your college, but I wouldn’t believe you. I’m convinced Hollins University is special in a way that is wholly unique and—yes—magical. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it to outsiders except to say that this place is my exhale. It is where I am not only most myself, but where I’m also my best self. The second I drive onto campus, I begin thinking clearer. When I am there, I am simultaneously more energized and relaxed. Tension leaves my shoulders. Everything I haven’t done or wished I could do suddenly seems completely possible.
So when I was asked to return to campus as a featured alum for a career conference, I think it took me all of 30 seconds to accept. A day talking to successful career women and driven, doe-eyed students? Sign me up. Of course, there’s nothing like being back at one of the most formative locations of your younger days to bring about a little reflection.
When I graduated from college in 2009, I didn’t even know that my current profession existed. Well, obviously I knew being a freelance writer existed, but content marketing? Nope. It wasn’t even remotely on my radar. I had spent most of my life telling people that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, but really had no concept of what that would look like. But now I’m doing it. I’m making a living as a writer. Box checked.
And yet. During one of the “speed connection” sessions (think speed dating, but with alums and students networking instead), I found myself feeling incredibly…small? These young women, these students, these dreamers—they kept coming up to my table and sitting across from me and telling me all of the big things they hoped to do with their life. They had pie-in-the-sky dreams. They had make-a-difference dreams. Didn’t I used to be just like that? So hopeful, so inspired, so sure I would be who I wanted to be?
Because, yes: I am making a living writing. But 2009 Cortney wanted to be a writer with a capital Creative. She wanted to write novels and short stories and essays that people would read and think, “Yes, I feel this exact same way sometimes. Thank you.” And it’s not that I’ve given up on those goals, because I haven’t. I’m still taking small steps to pursue them, but they are just that: small. Somehow, bafflingly, six and a half years have passed. I can do more.
I went back to Hollins expecting to inspire current students to pursue their goals. I didn’t quite expect that they would instead have the same effect on me. That I would feel more inspired than I have in months. That I would want to act, want to do, want to be…better.
And really, I should have known. If there’s any place that can reconnect me with who I am and who I want to be, it’s Hollins. It’s a good reminder to my fellow sisters: If you’re feeling lost, if you aren’t quite sure you’re on track, or if you just need to remember how it felt—go back. Step onto campus. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
Cortney Phillips Meriwether was an English/creative writing major at Hollins. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing from North Carolina State University in 2012. She works as a freelance writer in content marketing and lives in Buckhannon, West Virginia, with her husband, Jack. This essay was originally published on cortneyphillips.com.