Tulsan Trey Stewart Praises His Home Town

Middlebury College Student

MIDDLEBURY SCHOLAR: Tulsan Trey Stewart graduates from Middlebury College in Vermont this spring. The Booker T. Washington graduate is impressed with the positive strides his hometown has taken over the past four years.

In the spring of 2005, I graduated, along with 177 of my peers, from Tulsa’s Washington High School. In the days leading up to the graduation ceremonies, the atmosphere was one of exhilaration. As the culmination of our high school careers loomed just a few days off, the students of Washington’s 2005 class looked ambitiously toward a new chapter in their lives, one that would not only define the relationships they would form over the succeeding years, but also who and what they would become as independent adults in the real world.

So much of the world that was unavailable to us as adolescent high school students had suddenly become an overwhelmingly wide plain of opportunity, every path of life was a possibility, and individually we took full advantage. There were those of us who entered the workforce straight out of high school looking to earn money quickly and establish a life outside of their parent’s homes, there were those who went on to technical schools and became welders, mechanics, or nurses, there were those who went on to the familiarity of state colleges to establish their independence and then there were those, like me, who left the state of Oklahoma to carve out a life in a new place where the local color and intricacies of day-to-day life were completely different from anything I had ever experienced.

I was as enthusiastic about the situation as any of my fellow seniors at the time, I had just been accepted to an elite liberal arts school in Vermont named Middlebury College and I couldn’t have been more excited about the possibilities that Middlebury provided. As I sat on the plane to Vermont, headed for my first encounter with what would be my home for the next four years, I pondered how I felt about my roots in Oklahoma and how that would change in the future. There had always been a special place in my heart for the atmosphere of Tulsa and the unique blend of cosmopolitan culture that characterized the city, but I wondered, when thrust into this setting where I knew no one and where the pace of life itself was so utterly different, would Tulsa still occupy that special part of my identity or would my appreciation of home become buried in the flow of my new life in the east?

These thoughts, I believe, were not a function of the apprehension I felt at leaving my home state nor were they exclusive to my thought processes alone, but rather they seemed to me a reality that all high school graduates who go out of state for school have to face. They are forced to ask themselves: When I come back home, will Tulsa still be the Tulsa I knew, and will I still be the person I understood myself to be when I left?

It is now 2008, and I again look forward to a graduation ceremony looming just a couple of months away, and as I think back on my experiences in the east at Middlebury I can’t help but recall that first trip up to Vermont, thinking about all the possibilities the future held. Pondering this, I feel compelled to ask myself, have I lived so long outside of Oklahoma that I can no longer call it home? Does the fact that I have lived for the majority of the last four years in a place so utterly different from Tulsa mean that Tulsa is no longer where I belong or want to be? For too many of my peers who have left the state, I fear, this is the case.

Many of Tulsa’s smartest and brightest individuals who do leave the state are lost to the allure of the sprawling urban life of places such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles. However, to me the experiences I have accumulated and the developments that I have seen during my returns to Tulsa over the last four years, however brief they were, have increased my appreciation of Tulsa as a city with an emerging and attractive culture for young adults.

From my perspective as a person who has been exposed to cities and regional cultures that are supposed to be more modern and more livable than Tulsa, I believe that our fine city whose inviting spirit is so often lost to the excitement and variety of bigger cities, is in the midst a revival of the cosmopolitan spirit that I so treasured as a high school graduate in 2005.

If you look at the recent developments just within the last four years, the positive changes are undeniable. The construction of the BOK Center, the establishment and growth of the Blue Dome, Brookside, and Jenks Riverwalk districts, the influx of high quality housing developments within the downtown and midtown areas, and the recent decision to move the Drillers ballpark to the center of downtown Tulsa are just a few of the exciting changes that appeal to young adults. When you couple those quality of life developments with the in-state job opportunities provided to intelligent Oklahoman students who have gone out of state in order to go to reputable schools, Tulsa seems a legitimate and exciting option for beginning an adult life.

As the Christmas season approaches, coming home to Tulsa to see my family, to celebrate the holiday, to visit with old friends, they all matter, but what matters more than anything else is the simple fact that I will be in that one place that defines the most integral portion of my identity, of who I am as a person and how I perceive the world. A place where I can feel comfortable, where I can remember the good times of the past, and where, at the same time, I can look forward ambitious and wide-eyed to a future that only seems to be getting better and better for young adults like myself.

The author served last summer as the student writing and editorial intern at Greater Tulsa Reporter Newspapers.

Updated 12-19-2008

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