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A Love Letter To My Time At EMU

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A heartfelt thank you to the unforgettable years spent in Ypsilanti.

Kenneth Bailey

A love letter to my time at Eastern Michigan University:

First off, thank you to the team here at Hustle Belt for allowing me the opportunity to have a meaningful platform to share this reflection piece.

It seems almost surreal to be reflecting on my time at Eastern Michigan as it seems like just yesterday that I was transferring in. The person I was at that time seems like a different lifetime ago. I will either be graduating at the end of this semester or needing to take one final class online so in a way, my time here at EMU is ending.

It was important to me to write this as so often it seems as if the news coverage of our beloved EMU is negative and often from people who have never stood next to Swoop or on campus.

When I first started coming around Eastern Michigan University, I was a community college student who would visit my girlfriend on weekends. It was exciting to me to be on a larger campus and experience somewhat of what that culture had to offer.

My first visit to campus resulted in me texting her that I was being followed by two people in yellow jackets, that was when I first learned of the SEEUS program.

The football field was still green back then and the Starbucks in the Student Center was on the second floor (I should remember as my ex used to make me hide out there when her parents visited.)

I remember finishing community college and starting work in a factory. In fact, for much of my time at Eastern Michigan, I would work 50 hours a week while taking night classes. Sometime later, my work allowed me to cut back on my schedule to focus on my studies for which I remain thankful.

I was nervous about starting at a larger school, and was relieved when I found my first classroom in Pray-Harrold. To have gone from someone who did not know anyone on campus as a transfer student to having people greet me while walking to class or to now know the campus like I know my hometown is a great feeling.

The halls of Quirk and Ford feel like home to me, and I truly believe that the instructors which frequent those classrooms are among the best kept secrets of this university. (Aside: in the office by the editing lab in Quirk, there’s usually a snack bin for students). I once had a class at the now defunct Livonia campus and I am jealous of future students who will never have to experience what was the high school like look to Sill Hall.

I was formerly a member of Greek Life with the now defunct Alpha Kappa Lambda chapter. I enjoyed my time in the greek life community immensely and while AKL was small, I took pride in being a member. The other members and alumni are individuals who I will respect for forever. Some of our social gatherings, such as the Conclave trip to the Bahamas, are not only amongst my favorite college memories, but also amongst my favorite memories in general.

During my time at Eastern Michigan, I have seen some of the darker days of the institution. I was enrolled during the racial graffiti and was in the stands during the student-led protests at Rynearson. I was there when the doll was hung from a shower. It often feels as if EMU can’t get out of its own way and a lot of its problems, while certainly not unique to Ypsilanti, are sadly self-inflicted.

Growing up I resided in a community where the second most predominate race might have as well been considered corn or soybeans. Eastern Michigan has taught me so much about others cultures, and respecting their rights. In fact, my first ever class in Quirk was an intercultural communications class. It may not show up on any transcript but I am beyond grateful for the lessons afforded to me here at Eastern in regards to a diverse society.

My tenure at EMU also coincided with the sports cuts and the subsequent Title IX complaints.

When I was selecting another school after JCC (ehh, Jackson College,) it was important to me to experience Division I college athletics. Growing up, I always wanted the experience of being a part of a student section. As I leave EMU, I can say that I have had well over a hundred of those opportunities. It is not easy to be a fan of a small MAC school, and the games across sports are not the social events as they are down the road in Ann Arbor. But there’s a special and unique pride in supporting a school like Eastern. The love and connection I have for this schools sports teams will last a life time.

I have supported the Eagles not only in Ypsilanti but in Toledo, Cleveland, Kalamazoo, Mt. Pleasant, Bowling Green, Ann Arbor, and Bloomington, among other locals. I have been on the flex cam, and missed a putt for ten thousand dollars. I have been the fan of the game and won numerous Ypsilanti prize packs.

I am blessed that my time here came during the Chris Creighton era for football. I take pride in knowing that I was enrolled and came of age as a fan during the glory days for Eastern football. I hear the rattling of keys from Cueter Key Plays in my sleep.

Thanks to Creighton’s era I will never be surprised when the Eagles “upset” a Big Ten team. My tenure overlapped with those of legends like Brogan Roback, and Maxx Crosby.

There’s no place I would rather drink Whiteclaws than in the shadows of “The Factory”.

The homecoming pep rallies were a can’t miss for me and I always followed them up with a trip to Dom’s. Homecoming Saturdays are perhaps one of my favorite days each year and a tradition I intend to keep until the end of my days.

(My second homecoming, which I celebrated with my good friend Scottie, was probably the most fun I ever had at a game… until Paulie Fricano missed a kick in overtime.)

College basketball is perhaps my favorite sport. I feel blessed to have had the opportunities to support EMU basketball. I took pride in wearing my game bibs to games and cheering, even if not many other students did.

I will tell my future children of about watching James Thompson IV play, and brag about how my tweet of a Tim Bond dunk got me on to ESPN’s SportsCenter. The 2018 MAC tournament in Cleveland is probably the loudest I’ve ever cheered. I have ate endless amounts of free three inch Jimmy John’s subs.

If you ever get the chance as an EMU student, go experience an afternoon in the sun at Oestrike Stadium watching the baseball program. You won't regret it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my Father and his support not only during my college journey but life in general. Each year I have purchased him a season ticket to EMU football so that he may enjoy the games as well and those Saturdays… or Tuesdays… or Wednesdays are some of my favorite times each year.

Although I am graduating, I am sure that I will still be using my student ID for at least the next three to five years to support EMU athletics. (Shhh, don't tell anyone.)

I grew to love Ypsilanti, and the culture. I have more pictures of the Ypsilanti Water Tower on my phone than I have ever had of a significant other.

Ypsi Locals feel like family, even if I don’t understand how they always seem to walk within the roadways. St. Patrick's Day is made for mornings at Powell’s Pub even if I now have more green shirts than I ever could have imagined.

I’ve felt like a hipster at Cultivate, which has become one of my favorite spots.

Tower Inn’s Sunday brunch might be better than their beer towers. I have closed down Wurst Bar and spent mornings at The Bomber with their life affirming Captain Crunch French toast.

Going to Eastern after they added Chick-Fil-A was truly living my best life.

I’ve seen the fountains on in every weather condition and I think that the Student Center lit up is one of my favorite sights to behold.

Geoff Larcom has emailed me more than members of my own family.

I have every edition of the Eastern Echo since I started at EMU.

Fall semesters never seemed to start until Meijer Madness.

I have ran into President Smith at tailgates.

The quietness of campus during and after a snowstorm is unrivaled. One of my favorite memories here is braving the elements to walk from the apartments to the Marketplace after a foot of snow one year on Super Bowl Sunday.

From the absolute bottom of my heart, thank you to Eastern Michigan University and to the EMU community for these past few years.

While I appreciate the opportunity to receive a degree and the impact that that should have on my future, it is really the endless memories made here in Ypsilanti that I will never forget. It is those memories which will almost make the cost of tuition worth it.

I promise to take as much pride in the title of Eastern Michigan alum as I did the title of student at Eastern Michigan University.

With love,

Zackery VanNieuwenhze

(Forever a proud Eagle)