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An Open Letter To My Tiny College

girl looking at her college reminiscing

To my tiny college: You raised me, sheltered me, and loved me when I wasn’t quite sure who I was or where I was going. You gave me a home.

Everything began with a little packed car. I had everything that mattered to me—pictures for the walls, books for the shelves, clothes and shoes and notebooks I felt would define the woman I would become. And I put on my biggest smile as I drove away. This was the end and the beginning. This was all new.

You were six-and-a-half hours in that car, my new freedom. I would learn to do my deepest thinking on these drives. When I arrived, my room was tiny, the hall was cluttered, and the faces and voices of the surrounding dorm rooms were terrifying. But I trusted that you would keep me safe.

That 500 miles away from home was exactly where I was meant to be. And so I said goodbye to the life I’d always known and stepped bravely into your embrace.

Dear tiny college, you gave me confidence. You gave me friends. You gave me four walls to make my own and memories that filled the spaces around me. You gave me love. You gave me lessons. You gave me boys that would teach me how to be strong and friends that would teach me growth, healing, and strength.

As I grew, you gave me knowledge to soak up, rooms to fill with my words, and jobs to claim. I scuffed the dirt under my cleats and created comfort on that softball field. I found a patch of sunny grass between buildings and created a hiding place. I wandered along backroads and discovered my own paths.

You gave me people I could love, people I could trust, people I could share my dreams with.

Your small buildings gave me security, gave me strength. I learned how to speak confidently, how to make a difference, how to grab opportunities and carry them through.

You helped me become a woman I am proud of. And it’s because you carried me, that I learned to carry myself.

So thank you, tiny college in small-town Iowa. Thank you for being the change I wanted, the push I needed, the friends and the love and the security and the challenge that allowed me to grow, to believe in myself, to walk across a graduation stage with a bittersweet taste in my mouth—pride and fear. A new end and beginning.

Moving on, letting go.

Thank you for being a place that was mine, spaces and rooms and buildings and atmospheres that felt familiar and safe. Thank you, most of all for being a place I was thankful to return to. Thank you, throughout four years of my life, for being home.

Featured Image Credit: Tim Gouw

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Marisa Donnelly, M.Ed., is a writer/editor, credentialed teacher, proud bonus mama, and CEO of Be A Light Collective, a coaching and content creation business and digital marketplace. She is the Director of Donnelly’s Daily Apple, a flexible learning/tutoring and educational resource platform, and the lead voice for Momish Moments and Step by Step Parents, verticals dedicated to sharing and advocating for non-traditional parenting journeys. Marisa currently resides in San Diego, California, with her fiancé, kiddo, and their two rambunctious Pitbulls. ❤️


  1. I also attended a small college in a small town of Kansas. I can relate. That place was home. Im at a different school now in Virginia, and i still think of Kansas. That place birthed my lifelong friendships and the spirit of “ubuntu” (hospitality)

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