Saturday afternoon, I had to drive across town to get something from the craft store. It was an hour or so before the Spring Game kickoff, and there were plenty of people out and about sporting their Husker red (though traffic was surprisingly manageable). As I drove down Holdredge street, past East campus, I spotted an older gentleman walking with a little boy, probably his grandson. Grandpa had white hair and a solid sort of farmer’s build. He was wearing a red button-up and a red ball cap—if I had been closer I bet I would have been able to see a big red N on it. The little boy, sporting a red football jersey, didn’t even come up to grandpa’s hips. He had on the kind of big grin that only little kids pull off without looking mildly insane, and he was sort of skipping as he walked. I could tell he was excited to go to the game, and the way grandpa looked at him said that he was looking forward to it, too. And I just thought, “This. This is Nebraska.”
I hail from across the river—Sioux City, Iowa, to be exact. I grew up making fun of Nebraskans, looking down on them from my high perch on the Iowa plains. To me, Nebraskans were a bunch of quaint country folk without much of the big-city drive, style, or skill I valued as a teenager. (Let’s ignore the fact that I was from Iowa, of all places, and just acknowledge that I was a know-it-all teenager without much life experience, OK?)
And then it came time to choose a college. I was a good student (a valedictorian, even—though my school had 13 of them, which sort of diminishes the achievement), but I was really terrible at navigating the college search. I never went on a single college visit. I didn’t even apply to dream schools, though I landed a National Merit scholarship and probably could have had my pick. I just applied to a few different places and then chose one on a whim. Wah, wah, waaaaaah.
So I came to Nebraska. My grandpa was a long-time Hawkeye fan, and my mom always said he probably rolled over in his grave the day I made my final decision. But come August whatever-it-was, I rolled into Lincoln and unpacked my stuff in a dorm room on the 13th floor of Abel Hall.
Life since that day has been quite the (totally normal) adventure. I started sorority rush, then dropped out pretty much immediately. I ended up joining a house through open recruitment, also on a bit of a whim. I changed my major half a dozen times, landed as many internships as I could convince people to give me, and graduated with a degree in advertising. The summer after graduation I married a home-grown Nebraska boy, and three years later we brought our baby girl home to our house in Lincoln.
In all that time, I’ve obviously gotten to know quite a few Nebraskans. Heck, I married one (though he was born in Colorado—the only one of five siblings to be born outside of Nebraska, a fact which irritates him to no end). And I’ve grown to like it here. I still have dreams of living in the Pacific Northwest or overseas somewhere, but if that happens I’ll think of this place as home. I guess you could call me a naturalized Nebraskan. And it’s all because of that grandpa and his grandson.
OK, not actually. But I think they represent what’s so special about this place. There’s all the Midwest-work-ethic, slow-pace-of-life, and Nebraska-nice stuff, sure, but it’s not just that. There’s a sense of community and pride among Nebraskans that just feels different. I felt it when a group of strangers stopped by my dorm room the first week of classes and immediately opened themselves up to me. I felt it when I stood under the big banner with hundreds of others in the student section during a football game. I felt it when we stood in the crowd at the first concert in Lincoln’s new arena. And I feel it when I read writing like what you find on this site. Nebraskans stand together and love each other in a way that people in other places just don’t. Even when they disagree, when they come from varied backgrounds, and when they lead different lives, there’s still a common foundation of some kind that holds them together. You could say it’s values, upbringing, or just circumstantial. But I like to believe that it’s a fundamental part of the identity, that it just comes with being a Nebraskan. You can’t live here for an extended period of time and not love this place and these people. Visitor, you’ve been warned. If you come to this place, you’re going to want to call it yours.