If James Madison had never lived….

If James Madison had never lived or lived a life of less impact, there would be no James Madison University. And if there were no JMU, we would not be asking “Why Madison?” And if we were not asking “Why Madison?” I might not have a blog post for today.

But I do.

When I thought about today, Constitution Day, and I thought about James Madison, the father of the Constitution, I realized that President Madison’s legacy impacts every student who enrolls here. In a very real way, President James Madison and the Constitution are largely the reason why today JMU President Jon Alger is asking the question, “Why Madison?”

So on Constitution Day, I thought it was fitting to ask a student “Why Madison?” Be the Change intern Tyler McAvoy (’13) answers that question in today’s blog post, and proves that James Madison is still changing lives.

Why Madison?

by Tyler McAvoy (’13)

Back when I graduated from high school in 2008, I didn’t want to go to JMU. It was a fallback option, a secondary place that if I had to go to I would, but I really didn’t want to.  At the behest of my parents, I begrudgingly submitted an application on a whim, but consigned myself to the fact that even if I get in, no power on Earth could get me to enroll at JMU.

See, my mother is JMU alum. My grandmother took nursing classes on campus way back in the day. I’m what current JMU’ians call a “townie” and I really hated the idea of remaining one for a further four years of my educational experience. I felt that JMU was always looming over me like a shadow of stagnation: Not only did I see it as boring and exactly what my parents wanted me to do, I felt that enrolling here meant I was dooming myself to a “townie” existence for the rest of my life, living in The Friendly City and getting sucked in the “black hole” of Rockingham County.

I had to get out. So I did. But not far.

I ended up attending a Roanoke College in Salem, Va., for my freshman year, exactly a hundred miles south on I-81 from exit 240.  It lured me in with its beautiful campus, small classroom sizes, outdoor adventure opportunities and a vibrant, established history.  I was excited to go there. Very excited.

Then I started my freshman year. I hated it.

It wasn’t the school per se, I just didn’t feel a connection.  For some reason, it felt sterile to me, the people all looked the same, there never was anything to do, and pretty early on, I realized I had made a mistake.

Not knowing what to do, I transferred to JMU, head hung low and my tail between my legs. I moved back in with my parents, and realized that I had indeed become (GASP!)  a townie. I started my sophomore year half-heartedly, under the assumption that my life of adventure and excitement was over before it had even begun.  I had become my parents. I was convinced I would live here my whole life, looking at the same mountains and seeing the same fields everyday. I was exactly the person I had promised I would never be.

Yet, after a few weeks I realized something was different. I was beginning to connect with people. Professors seemed intrigued at my ideas, and people I met around campus seemed generally invested. That sterility of my old college seemed like a distant memory in the face of this overwhelming warmth. Vibrancy. Excitement. The campus buzzed all day long, and it was just fascinating for me to sit on a bench and just watch students go through their day. Smiles flashed. Laughter. Friendly waves to people all around.

It was different. It was friendly. The personal shame I felt for becoming a townie began to melt and I soon realized that JMU was where I needed to be all along.

See, I was so concerned that it wouldn’t offer adventure, that I didn’t see the reality of what JMU could offer.  Ask me about the time I went 170 miles per hour in a Corvette at Virginia International Raceway, or the time I went rock climbing to only learn that I was horribly afraid of heights. Ask me about getting published, or all of my hiking excursions, or zip lining, or roller derby or any number of a million things that I’ve done while I’ve been here.

It’s been a great adventure this past four years, and a completely surprising one, and what’s best: I know that my hometown can offer a lot more than I gave it credit for my entire adolescence.

I may not have chosen JMU at first, but I sure am glad that JMU chose me.

To learn more about President Alger’s 2012 Listening Tour visit http://www.jmu.edu/stories/president/2012/why-madison.shtml


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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