People give me odd looks when I tell them I still wear my college ring.

Every day, it remains snug on the middle finger of my right hand, and every so often, people squint their eyes and tilt their head ever so subtly, seeming to think how peculiar it is that I wear a ring like this. I wonder if they see it as a kind of umbilical cord, a connection to a younger time that maybe I wish to return to. But that’s not my reason. I don’t wish to return to college; I wish to remember it.

I don’t know why others wear their college rings. Maybe to relive the good ‘ol days. Honestly, I encountered and caused enough bad experiences that the wish to return to college isn’t a wish of mine. I want to continue moving forward, not yearn for the past. Even so, I wear my college ring every day, admiring the smooth, clean lines of the Rotunda carved on it along with the founding year, the state, the university name. I wear it, remembering the words I had inscribed on the inside: “Lead. Serve.”

These two words are, of course, stemmed directly from two of Longwood University’s 12 Points of leadership and service. It is also derived from a 1927 quote from a Longwood alumna, who said, "I have prepared to lead, and in leading, to serve others."

To lead is to serve; that was drilled into me, and with these words I became deeply ingrained in the clubs and organizations of Longwood University. I joined two honors societies, the radio station, newspaper, and a myriad of other organizations, always saying yes, always happy to serve, and always happy to juggle responsibilities and leadership positions. I did this even if the stress was overwhelming.

“Citizen leader,” that is what Longwood wishes to make of its students. I believed so wholeheartedly in these two words that I was willing to apply every hour and every day of my time as a student to pursuing and deserving this title.

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I greatly believe in Longwood’s mission to make citizen leaders out of every student, to make every student invest in their community, and by investing, gaining experiences, knowledge, and a better future.

I met too many students at Longwood who said things like, “There’s nothing to do here,” and, “It’s boring,” and, “I get nothing out of being here.” But if you looked at how they interacted with their community, more often than not, they did nothing. They joined no organizations. They never volunteered. They never even glanced at the posters and papers cluttering up the corkboards in the dormitories and dining halls. They mourned their time at Longwood University when they could have celebrated it and been celebrated as a citizen leader.

For me, a citizen leader is someone who not only lives in a community, but contributes and assists it. I know that the only way to get the most out of a community is by investing in it first, not by expecting it to invest in another first.

After graduation, it became easy to relax and forget this lesson. I gave up on volunteering since it wasn’t required anymore. I avoided glancing at posters on corkboards of coffee shops and bars. I remained aloof to meet ups and community organizations. Finally, I became bored and eventually dismissive of where I lived. By dismissing the world, it then dismissed me.

 *Longwood University and Longwood College rings available 

Sometimes, when I look down and see the silver, my stomach knots up at the memory of all-nighters and stress that felt like a sickness. I remember avoiding my classes and avoiding meals, trying to finish assignments until the last minute. I remember wishing so much that I could be that citizen leader.

I don’t want to return to college. It’s a different entity now. There’s no way to ever see the Longwood University that I knew and loved today, and that’s okay. I’ll always have the memory on my finger, the reminder my community will not wait for me. I have to deserve its attention.

It is difficult to deal with student loans and with memories of all-nighters and drama. It is easy to forget the lessons learned. I advise others find their own reminder, a reminder of what is beneficial to one’s peace of mind. Remember that the only way to find one’s community is to enter it first.

About the Author

Michelle Goldchain '14

Michelle Goldchain is a media professional based in Washington, D.C. She works as Editor of Curbed DC where she writes about real estate and development in the D.C. area. She is also a Freelance Photographer for On Tap Magazine. Her writings and photography have been published in seven Curbed sites, Street Sense, On Tap Magazine, Whurk Magazine, Quill Magazine, Tagg Magazine, Luri & Wilma, Prince William Living Magazine, The Farmville Herald, and Longwood University's newspaper, The Rotunda. She has also been a guest on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show.

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