Goodbye to the only place I’ve known

Guest written by Alex Duvall

I’ve lived my entire life in the Arkansas River Valley. I was born at Saint Mary’s on May 27, 1993 and attended Atkins Public School from the first day of kindergarten until the day I got my diploma. Last month I graduated from Arkansas Tech University with two degrees, and come August 17th I’ll move almost 1,200 miles away to live in Rochester, New York.

If that sounds a little crazy to you, then that’s two of us. The decision to move away wasn’t an easy one, especially when it’s that far. It’s hard to say goodbye to the only place you’ve ever known. An opportunity arose, though, that I couldn’t skip out on — the University of Rochester offered me a spot in their Photographic Preservation and Collection Management program. While the name is long, it simply means that I will get to study the history of photography, social aspects of the art and ways to preserve it. It might not be for everyone, but for me it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.

My interest in photography came from the River Valley itself. For as long as I can remember, my dad has taken me out into the forests of Arkansas to shoot photos of the flora and fauna. It’s a tradition of sorts, and something we do as often as possible. Those times have always been really special to me and have helped to shape my interests. His love for photography quickly turned into my love for photography, and since then has grown into nothing short of an obsession.

Photography, in a lot of ways, has shaped more than just my interests. It has also shaped my life and they way I live it. I’ve made friends all over the world, sold photos to some of the largest publishing companies in America, and had my work featured in magazines and online. The two degrees I chose to pursue while at Tech were pointed to help strengthen my resume when applying to grad photography programs. My English degree helped improve my research and writing abilities, and my graphic design degree gave me invaluable technical skills along with a strong background in art and art history. The jobs I’ve held since high school have done the same thing: a photo specialist at Walgreens, a graphic designer at the Arkansas Tech Museum, and assistant photographer with Arkansas Tech University Relations. A lot of what I’ve been doing over the past few years has been leading to this point — the point in time where I have to leave home.

I say “have to” because, honestly, I don’t want to. Arkansas. More specifically, the River Valley, is very special to me. You don’t live somewhere for 22 years without growing attached. Yes, there are some things that I would probably change if I could, but the pros always seem to outweigh the cons. And yes, I am scared, scared out of my mind even. But to paraphrase a movie I saw recently, being scared is what allows you to be brave.

Rochester probably sounds like an alien planet to most people at first mention, but in a lot of ways it felt like Russellville when I visited. The people were kind, the community was tight and the food was good. Those things are reassuring to me. You can’t hate a place with good food and nice people, right? It may not be my permanent home, or even my home-away-from-home, but for now the fact that it feels a little like it is comforting.

In the big scheme of things this move is probably one of the most important things I’ll ever do. It’s a reward for all the hard work I’ve put in since kindergarten. I have to remind myself of that everyday. As the community I’ve grown up in continues to thrive, as it gets great new restaurants and stores, as the university that I proudly call my alma mater expands to new heights, and more and more opportunities become available, I have to remind myself that moving away is worth it. In the end, I’ve earned it.

So this may not be a final farewell but it is a goodbye for now. Whether in two years or twenty, I will find my way back home to Arkansas and the place that sent me on this journey

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Category: On a Personal Note

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