Graduating from college has been one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. While I now have a degree qualifying me to get out and get a real, adult job, I also had to leave a place I grew to love these last four years: a place that began to feel as familiar as home.
I was lucky enough to study at Marist College in the heart of the Hudson Valley. When I first toured the campus, I knew it was beautiful: the way every building pointed toward a view of the Mid-Hudson Bridge, the raging Hudson River, and hills that seemed to tumble on forever. What I didn’t know is how far the wonders of the Hudson Valley kept going. I didn’t know then how much there was to see, do, and explore. Nearly all of my downtime these past four years was spent discovering something about this new region of a state in which I’ve lived my whole life. Even so, I feel as though I haven’t even seen half of it.
My first year spent along the river astonished me. The way the leaves suddenly turned the hills spectacular shades of red, orange, and yellow that added a warm glow to the air in the fall. Looking up from my books through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Marist’s library and watching as an enormous barge tore through the sheets of ice that lay across the water in the winter. In the spring, my friends and I chased groundhogs across fresh-cut lawns, littered with the pink petals that fell from cherry blossoms.
After returning home to Long Island, I wished I’d seen and learned so much more about the Hudson Valley. What I’ll miss the most is driving aimlessly down winding roads lined with tall pine trees, historic houses, and 60-year-old diners until the road suddenly opens up to a vast mountain view that always caused me to hit the brake and slow down. I’ll miss taking a day trip down to Beacon, navigating through restored brick buildings that now hold gourmet donut shops and vintage clothing stores. I’ll miss being a short ride away from a mountain from the top of which I could see six states.
It seemed that everywhere I went these past four years, every little river-town I stumbled upon, every building, shop owner, and resident had a story to tell. As a journalism student, I had the opportunity to travel beyond my college bubble and interview people I probably never would have spoken with otherwise. I learned of the stories about why a restaurant was opened on Main Street in Poughkeepsie, the reason for the annual Pickle Festival in Rosendale, and how a talented hairdresser returned home to the Hudson Valley to open her own salon after years of traveling through different cities around the country, showcasing her abilities.
The Hudson Valley is home to an unmatched diversity of stories that keeps visitors — and even residents — guessing what each crumbling brick building looked like in its heyday, or who traveled this same trail along the river hundreds of years ago. Its history and spirit thrive among its residents, have intrigued me for four years, and have guaranteed my return to the Hudson Valley in the future.
Katie O’Leary is a passionate storyteller who recently graduated from Marist College and is now working toward a Juris Doctor degree.