A home away from home
College graduates continue to leave behind their city’s in hopes of the life they’ve always wanted
LaQuann Dawson Jr., 21, unlocks the compact room filled with computers on the second floor of Franklin Hall at 10:00 p.m. and begins his nightly routine. He orders a pizza from Hungry Howies, a sauceless concoction of sausage, banana peppers and tomatoes—a meal unfit for a king, perhaps, but ideal for a budget-conscious student anticipating an all-nighter.
“I hate red sauce, but banana peppers are my shit,” he said, suppressing a giggle. “Whenever they’d deliver, they’d be like ‘long time no see.’”
He pulls up his hair, collecting the curls into a ponytail, turns on the computer and tunes into Law and Order, keeping his eyes on the clock. A fleeting moment of pleasure preceding a night filled with work.
In an instant night turns to morning. It’s 7:00 a.m. — time for class.
Dawson, a visual communication design and fashion design double major, remembers the nights he spent alone designing, taking catnaps on a makeshift bed made of stacked rolling chairs— the product of a 30-hour work week and a 17-credit course load.
He recounts the nights he cried himself to sleep when the stress finally overwhelmed him. “I know why I’m working, but I don’t know if it’s worth it,” he said. “Right now, there’s so many 21-year olds who are living their dreams. I feel like I need those hours to catch up to where I want to be.”
Dawson has his sights fixed on a different destination— aiming a dart at the map from 430-plus miles away— directly for the bullseye that is New York. The destination 750,000 college graduates moved to between 2007-2012, as reported by the Washington Post, despite the fact that as a whole, the percentage of Americans who have moved to another state has fallen nearly 50 percent since the 1990s, according to the New York Times.
New York still attracts the most recent graduates of any metropolitan area, but overall, the made-for-cinema-storyline is now more Failure to Launch than Sex in the City.
In recent years, more students are returning home post-graduation. The Atlantic sets the percentage at 45: representing both the percent of college grads living at home as of 2011 and the overall percentage increase since 2001.
And yet, Dawson, like the other roughly 55 percent of college-aged individuals, is set on the move. The New York Times found that, “About 25 percent more young college graduates live in major metropolitan areas today than in 2000, which is double the percentage increase in cities’ total population.”
Dawson struggles to find the right words. Ever the artist, he depicts New York in a way that’d delight Bob Ross — he paints. “I would paint the vibe by a bunch of unorganized colors,” he said. “It’s this beautiful kind of chaos here.”
The son of LaQuann Sr. and Michelle, who split shortly after he was born, Dawson Jr. bounced around between his parents’ homes in Oberlin and Lorain, Ohio, before settling in Elyria, Ohio. He remembers deciding as a sophomore at Elyria High School to visit Parson’s and the School of Visual Arts before picking Kent State.
He discusses his favorite aspects: bustling streets, the rapid pace and sneaking off during a school tour to explore the city alone, “I can get used to that.”
Hometowns never felt quite like home, he said. But New York always did. Not even the litter could turn the neat-freak away.
Dawson shares this sentiment with Parisa Keyvanmanesh, a junior fashion merchandising major, who wakes up each morning in her bed in Williamsburg, New York, rolls over to check her phone and encounters a familiar message, her personal note to self: Get Your Shit Together.
Keyvanmanesh set it as her lock screen; a daily reminder to keep focused on the goal ahead and make everyday count.
“It makes me get things going; I have to make that effort,” she said. “If I don’t make that effort then who will?”
Keyvanmanesh, currently enrolled at Kent’s NYC Fashion Studio, pauses, thinking about her favorite memory: The sun was out— the week prior had been chilly— and people flocked to Central Park. The scent of dew lingered in the air. Brown leaves covered the ground.
“It was so breathtaking I almost started crying, it’s such a beautiful city,” she said. “I think that’s what’s so enchanting: You can totally get lost here and I love that.”
She believes her stay in England, where she lived with her family between the ages 6 to 8, changed her mentality.
Keyvanmanesh was bullied growing up in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and felt out of place with her peers. She said she struggled to be herself in her hometown. In the city, she said, “You can be a completely different person.”
The transition hasn’t been without its share of difficulties, but finances don’t intimidate her. Living on her own and “adulting” — first encounters with managing a tight budget and paying bills— is an ever-changing adjustment, she said. Just last week she saw an Instagram post for a “rainbow” bagel joint and rushed to visit.
She said she has a fear of missing out on the abundance of different food available throughout the city. It made her realize how much money she spends eating out and she’s trying to save money by shopping for ingredients now.
But Keyvanmanesh agonizes over something more significant than her expenses. She left behind her sister, Leah.
She said from the day Leah was born she used to take care of her 9-year-old sister, babysitting while their parents worked. Now, when she visits Dearborn, she spends most of her time at home. Despite the 11-year age difference, they’ve grown close, sisterhood mixed with a maternal bond.
Keyvanmanesh remembers when their newfound distance finally became a reality for her sister. Two weeks into the move they FaceTimed to discuss their favorite show, Downton Abbey. They always made time to watch the show, no matter what.
“I feel like I lost my Downtown spirit,” Leah said.
“What?” Parisa asked. “You can’t lose your spirit girl, that’s our thing.”
“I just feel like I’m losing you and I feel like we’re not having enough communication and we’re not as close as we were before,” the 9-year-old responded.
They looked at each other through the screens and sobbed. Their mother appeared in the background and said, “Leah, it’s only been two weeks.”
“The thing is she’s little. She’s going to grow up and I’m not going to see any of that, you know?” she said, her voice uneven. “I’m not going to be around for that. I think that overall the hardest part for me is kind of letting her go, in a way.”
Still, she’s determined to relocate. Career-wise, it represents the best opportunity and is the only place that feels right. And her family fully supports her.
Dawson’s, too. All eight siblings and step-siblings, and both parents. Staying home was never an option; it never felt right, he said, “I don’t get the same vibes in Cleveland.”
He’s up to eight or nine visits by his count and said he doesn’t get excited entering the city now, “It feels kind of normal. Like, ‘OK, I’m home.’ When I am home, I don’t feel excited.”
Comfortable, he finally decides is the best way to describe New York.
That fleeting feeling is what he craves.
And so it’s time to get back to work.