Looking back at my four years of college in Uptown New Orleans, I can hardly say I'm surprised that I made the choice to stay here after I graduated. No, I did not get a big job offer down here, which would have made the decision to leave my hometown of New York City that much easier. No, I didn't get drafted by the New Orleans Saints to take over Drew Brees's position as quarterback. Somehow, the muggy layer of humidity during the summer months wasn't a huge factor in convincing me to leave my post in the Northeast to migrate down to NOLA, either. So, if not because of these things, then what exactly is convincing me and so many other young adults to start new lives in the Big Easy after attending a few years of school down here? There is no single answer; everyone has their own list of reasons, but nobody seems to have an answer to one question: "Why not?"
It's only been a couple of months since my fellow colleagues at schools like Tulane University, Loyola University, the University of New Orleans, etc. graduated or at least finished up an academic year and returned home for the summer. I had made the decision to stay in New Orleans after finishing school about a year before I finished. The majority of students who came from out of town returned to their hometowns by default. Most of them weren't going home for any other reason than the fact that it was just that: home.
However, there is a significant number of these graduating students who do decide to continue their lives away from their original hometowns and to adopt New Orleans as their new home. In a city like this one, one could imagine how difficult it might be to make the transition from college life—filled with fun, devoid of any responsibilities other than making it to class on time—to being a functioning member of society, finding a job, and settling down. But then again, those things aren't exactly requirements in this city. Those things can wait.
I asked a fellow graduate of Tulane University, Serge Neborak, why he decided to stay in New Orleans instead of moving back home to New York. "I just wasn't ready to move back home and try living there as an adult," he responded. "First of all, I'd be living with my parents, which I think would be a disaster for all parties involved. But on a more serious note, it's way more relaxed here. For one, it's actually possible to pay for rent in a decent neighborhood without a six-figure salary, and I feel like I can be an adult and still enjoy myself."
I couldn't agree more. My father was born in New Orleans in 1956, but I never held any connection to the city whatsoever until I came here in 2013. When I first touched ground in this city, I never intended on moving here four years and a degree later. I always had my mind set on living in New York City, but that was before I realized I had found a new beloved city I wanted to call home. The city of New Orleans fascinates me and surprises me with new experiences every time I step out of my comfort zone and try something new. For something like that around here, one doesn't need to travel very far.
When asked about his plans after graduation, rising senior Aidan Watson remarked, "I miss home all the time, but I think if I finish school and go back, I'll miss it here even more. Yes, I could come back for Mardi Gras every year, or Jazz Fest, but anyone can come from anywhere and do that. It's not the big events that do it for me, it's just the everyday things you see, people you talk to, exchanges you have with strangers, music you hear. I just don't see how anyone could ever get bored down here. It might be the only city I've been to where I just can't see anyone ever getting bored, even after decades of living on the same street."
New Orleans does have big events like festivals and concerts that make it an amazing weekend getaway (Mardi Gras needs no introduction), but it's true that these are not the things that make it the city that it is. It's the friendly smiles on the street that would be met with confused glances and even hostility in cities like New York. It's the fun-loving, laid-back atmosphere that is enjoyed by everyone here, regardless of age. It's the "How you doin', Baby?" that you hear not as a catcall, but as a greeting by the lady making your shrimp po-boy exactly how you order it every time you see her. It's the heart.
New Orleans has not diminished my love for my hometown one bit. I still love the things I've always loved about where I grew up, but I think New Orleans made me realize the things I never got to love in any other city.