The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, April 13, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: You don’t have to hate your hometown

The sun sets over Lake Norman, N.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. Photo Courtesy of Kennedy Cox.

I used to dream of leaving my hometown. 

After spending the first 18 years of my life in suburban North Carolina, I sent in college applications to schools up and down the West Coast, with the intention of never coming back.

I hated North Carolina. I hated feeling trapped by the boundaries of I-77 and I-85. I hated the Cook Out parking lots full of pick-up trucks with lift kits and LED headlights. My number one goal was to graduate and never be the girl that stayed “stuck” in her hometown. 

It wasn’t until I left for college that my entire perspective changed. When I found myself watching "Hannah Montana: The Movie" with my suitemates and crying to “You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home” by Miley Cyrus and “Back to Tennessee” by Billy Ray Cyrus,  I realized how much I loved to come home and how much I cherished my small town roots.

We’ve all seen the “peaked in high school” tweets and TikTok videos. We know the stereotypical person who shares nostalgic memories on social media, wears their high school sweatshirt, reminisces on their “glory days” and goes back to visit their favorite high school teacher. 

But why is that a bad thing? What’s wrong with reflecting on our former days in a positive light? 

I didn’t “peak in high school.” I wasn’t on the cheer team, I never dated anyone and I was never the life of the party. In fact, my adolescent years were some of the lowest points of my life. When it was all over, I realized how quickly it went by and how much of it I took for granted. But if I could do it all over again, I would. Not because those “glory days” were the most exciting days of my life, but because I didn’t appreciate them enough in the moment.

As I finish up my final few years of college, I start to notice more people wanting to separate themselves from their hometown completely. Over holiday breaks, they visit with their family and then run away as fast as possible. No visits with old friends, no journeys to their old stomping grounds. 

There’s nothing that I love more than going to my hometown for the weekend. I love driving by my high school and seeing what’s changed or walking past the street corner where my friends and I used to sit until 11:00 p.m. or looking through my yearbooks. I love running into old faces in the grocery store and inviting familiar faces to catch up. And 10 years from now, when I’m bringing my kids back to my hometown to see their grandparents, I can’t wait to bore them with all my memories from when I was their age. 

And what about the people who don’t have the luxury of leaving their hometown and doing something “bigger?” Why do we mock them for staying in the same place?

Not every person needs to run off to New York City or Los Angeles. Not every person needs to cut ties with every person they grew up with. Not every person needs to make a complete 180-degree flip from the life that they once knew. 

It’s never good to be stuck in the past. But to appreciate where you came from and how your hometown shaped you is normal and shouldn’t be cast aside as “peaking in high school.” There’s always a chance that you will look around and realize that the only place that you have is home. It’s okay to look back at where you came from with warmth and appreciation.


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Kennedy Cox

Kennedy Cox is the 2023-24 photo editor at The Daily Tar Heel She has previously served as co-editor of the photo desk. Kennedy is a senior pursuing a political science degree.