Welcome to Bowling Green

Western Kentucky University, my alma mater, Thursday hosted its annual Big Red’s Blitz,  an all-day charity event during which WKU students–mostly new freshmen–go in groups to various non-profit organizations’ sites around the community and volunteer. Its namesake is our mascot, Big Red.

I did not participate in Big Red’s Blitz as a freshman five years ago, nor did any of my friends. Apparently we’re not a charitable bunch. Though I’d like to say I just didn’t know what it was. Thursday was my first taste of this event that has been going on for 10 years.

More than 300 students crowded together at the central location of campus. Some of them sported WKU Honors College drawstring backpacks or lanyards, which brought me memories of my own freshman faux pas and a shudder. And maybe a little sting of nostalgia.

They were fresh-faced, bright-eyed and some still carrying a little baby fat. It wasn’t hard to tell which ones were clinging to future sorority sisters, roommates or high school friends. But it was also easy to spot the ones straining to combat awkwardness in a hopelessly awkward situation: sitting in close quarters with strangers.

Maybe it was four years of WKU propaganda working its voodoo in my subconscious or maybe it was genuine emotion derived from my personal experiences, but I found myself strangely excited for them, knowing that many of them were meeting people right then with whom they would remain friends for the rest of their lives.

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WKU’s mascot, Big Red, dances for students Thursday during Big Red’s Blitz.

Later in the day, I got the opportunity to meet some of these first-time college students. I drove to HOTEL INC, a transitional housing and financial assistance Christian-based charity. Eight freshmen girls and an older student supervisor spent the day making artwork with inspirational sayings and Bible verses to hang on the walls of the building to lift clients’ spirits.

I spoke with Elizabeth West, a 17-year-old film major from Harrodsburg. Most of our conversation wasn’t related to the article I was writing about Big Red’s Blitz, but she and some of the other girls were eager to tell me about their high schools, their class schedules that would begin the following Monday and what they liked about WKU’s campus so far.

Elizabeth told me she wants to be a filmmaker and would like to be the next female to win Best Director at the Oscars, which would make her the second female to do so. She also told me she wants to prove a nay-saying high school teacher wrong who didn’t seem to think she had talent to make films.

When the conversation turned to what Bowling Green had to offer and, more specifically, where Elizabeth could take her parents to eat, I took a sheet of paper from my notebook and made her a list of all the local places I could think of.

“Can I see that list so I can take a picture of it?” one of the other girls asked.

“Yeah, me too. My parents keep asking me where to eat around here,” another said.

In about four minutes, my list of approximately 10 local restaurants was saved on several iPhones.

When I left HOTEL INC, I realized that my career choice had done more than help me pay rent and splurge on a Sonic milkshake every now and then. It had helped me make some Bowling Green newcomers feel at home. It had helped me benefit some small businesses. And more importantly, it showed me that I like to stuff my face more than I’d like to admit.

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