Home » Home is where the heart is.

Home is where the heart is.

It was more than two years ago that, for the first time ever, a Facebook status made me tear up.

“As I drive out of Blacksburg tonight, I leave behind my one true love… Virginia Tech. Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ll be back again someday and I know you’ll always be waiting for me.”

My friend Matt D. posted that to his Facebook in May 2013. I immediately wrote it down on a little piece of paper and stuck it in an old VT folder; I wanted to be sure I remembered it, because I thought it was powerful. Last week, while searching for something for a former student of mine in some old folders from teaching, I found that little paper again, and the feelings and memories all came right back.

When Matt posted that, he was graduating and beginning his post-graduation journey out into the real world. At that point, I was right in the middle. I was one year removed from having finished my first Virginia Tech degree, and one year away from earning my second. Both experiences were quite different over the course of those six years, but when you put them both together, they stand out as the six most definitive years of my life, thus far.

So much happens when you go off to college, in terms of how you develop and change as a person. Words like “experience” and “journey” best describe the whole process. That’s the reason why, when it was time for me to graduate in the spring of 2012, I didn’t feel quite ready. I still felt like I had so much more to accomplish for my university and as a member of that community. And I was right. There were so many experiences I had and things I was able to do in the community that wouldn’t have happened had I left in 2012.

You might have predicted that would happen when freshman Justin dressed as “Heaven” with a cotton-ball VT emblem on his chest for Halloween.

Luckily I earned admission into graduate school at my alma mater, and I didn’t have to say “see you later” for another 2 years. I was fortunate enough to continue learning, to still push myself outside of my comfort zone, but also continue to nourish and cultivate the many great relationships I had built up until that point.

Now that you know the journey, let’s get back present-day. As I type this on my lunch break on a Monday, I’ve just spent Friday – Sunday at home: in Blacksburg. I had visited many times since graduating more than a year ago, maybe six or seven times since. The difference, though, was that every single one of those trips to Blacksburg were filled with appointments. I usual went for a meeting or business of some kind, and then also a breakfast date here, a dinner date there, three coffees in between…

I love going back home but there were always, ALWAYS many things to do, and so many people that I wanted to spend time with, so many places that I wanted to see.

But for some reason, recently, that mindset kind of changed. Last week, when I got back from Smith Mountain Lake, wanderlust was taking me over and I felt the urge to just GO somewhere, outside of my home in Northern Virginia, again. Never mind the fact that I bought tickets to go visit Chicago next week on that very day, but I also felt a strong urge to go home. I texted one of my very best friends to make sure there was room for me for the weekend in her townhouse, and when she said yes – I decided I would embark on one of the most relaxing weekends in Blacksburg I’ve ever had since I moved in July 2014.

I had one appointment, and one appointment alone – that was to help with filming a new class video for the Class of 2017’s Leadership Team.

I had to dig into the depths of my closet to find my best Hokie pants! Haven’t had a great reason to wear those in a long time!

The filming went VERY well and it’s a project I’m excited to share in the near future!

I don't want to spill too many beans, but more than anything thanks to Laura W. (alumni Student Programs Director) and her students for thinking of me to be included in their project!
I don’t want to spill too many beans, but more than anything thanks to Laura W. (alumni Student Programs Director) and her students for thinking of me to be included in their project! PS. Snapchat credit goes to Ryan H.!


Not to mention, Ryan was a TOTAL rock star, standing in holding the golden circle to help my chocolate skin appear as glowy as possible. haha tricks of the trade in the film world, I guess!

Speaking of Ryan, I actually let very few people know that I was coming into town. I promised him, though, a few weeks back that the next time I was in town and he wasn’t swamped with Orientation Assistant stuff, we’d link up. In fact, until Saturday afternoon when I made a Facebook status that I was in Blacksburg, it was so calming to kind of just mosey around and not have appointment after appointment to bounce to. After we finished up the video, Ryan and I took a walk over to the Blacksburg Farmer’s Market and met up with some friends later in the afternoon. We ended up aimlessly sitting under a tree in the park just talking about life and school and everything in between for like two hours! It’s smart, bright, and people-centered students like Ryan (he’ll be a senior this year! MAN does time fly) that remind me how great it is to be an alum of Tech. He’s interested in studying higher education and student affairs in graduate school, just as I did.

As I also found with the students I mentored in graduate school, it’s nice to listen to Ryan muse about the same things that I was curious about at that stage in my grad school journey – from what kind of programs I might be interested in, to what functional areas I’d like to gain experience in, to what really would be the best fit for me. And, also, how to block out a lot of the negative noise and interpret the positive advice you’re bound to receive when making that grad-school decision.

That was just part of our conversation, but a highlight of my weekend nonetheless. With Ryan and I, I’d say we’re more of friends than him my student, so it’s also refreshing to be ruthlessly honest about that aforementioned musing as well. :) Regardless, Ryan is a stellar Hokie and I wanted to make sure he got a proper shout out on the blog for being such a rock star. :)

As a result of sitting under that tree for a few hours, naturally we ran into a few friends…

Shane M., Jess N., and Sara L.: I met each in very different walks of life, but each has had a very solid impact on it.

As Ryan and I were chatting about places we’d like to see around the country, out of the corner of my eye, I spot my friends Shane and Shereen walking away from the market. After shouting out, they grab a seat with us. Then, my roommate for the weekend Sara (neighbs for life), joins us with another friend. While we’re all sitting and chatting, she spots another mutual friend, Jess, and grabs her over into our circle, too. It was one of those moments where, even though I had met each of these people in very different moments in my time at Virginia Tech (freshman year for Shane, junior year for Sara, and grad school for Jess) it was so wonderful that we all just happened to come together at that exact moment.

And that, right there, is what I absolutely love about Blacksburg. That’s what is so special about it to me. That I can be rolling around town, at any given moment, and feel embraced by community. Whether I know the people or not, it’s uncanny how that little town just envelopes me in positive vibes. No matter where I am, no matter how bad of a day I may be having. It’s uncanny.

While getting free slurpees on 7-11 day, I ran into these two little guys – each are sons of mentors of mine in the Blacksburg community. Such a coincidence but, again, one of those moments where you just feel so full, seeing how much they have grown over the years and knowing that they are going to develop into such great people, if their parents are any indication. :)

And in a final stroke of coincidence, it turned out that an old mutual friend of Sara and I’s was getting into Blacksburg at 2:00 on Sunday – all the way from her new home in Brussels. Natasha G. and I had met through Sara and Allison (my former neighbors, who I’m still very close with) almost four years ago – and she immeaidately struck me as someone that I wanted to be friends with. Her fun spirit and loving personality were easy to gravitate toward. So, when I found out that she would be coming into town just as I was planning to leave to head back toward D.C. – of course, I changed my plans!

Sara and I ended up spending the day cleaning and cooking, we’re a dream team in the kitchen to say the least. We prepared a good portion of a very nice spread of chicken kebobs, fresh vegetable cous cous, amongst other things. We put a lot on our plate but somehow we accomplished it all! We ended our night with none other than…Apples to Apples. We all wished we were playing Cards against Humanity though, really.


As I sit here reflecting on what was another fantastic weekend, I can’t help but think about how it was made by the company. From people that I’ve known from years and have spent hours on end with, to people that I have known months and am really just now getting to know very well, I encountered the gamut of those while I was back home for the weekend. Just like every weekend, it was a challenge to pull myself back to my car and drive that four hours back to Northern Virginia; but, of course, life calls.

As I prepare for another trip elsewhere (Chicago this weekend), I realize that my terms service on the boards I volunteer on in Blacksburg are coming to an end (I usually use those as a REALLY justified excuse for making a visit home). I realize that even as I help recruit and meet more new students, the ones that I’ve developed those solid connections with are growing on up, and moving on with their lives. And it’s strange because I’m a city guy at heart; I missed, so much, having so many options for so many things around me. In Blacksburg, I almost got Green’s sushi twice in one day just because there was no food in the house and options were limited! But…those are small things, really…

People always tell me that they think I’ll end up back in Blacksburg at some point, permanently. I don’t know – because those were six amazing years and I don’t want to mess with that. On the other hand, I feel an incredibly strong pull to continue serving my university. Obviously, I know there are many ways to do that (as I practice now) but there’s just something about having your feet on the ground down in Blacksburg that makes it feel a bit more…weighty.

I really do believe someone planted a magnet under the Drillfield. A magnet that makes Hokies always want to come back. I know I’m just speaking for myself, but home really is where the heart is.

And my heart’s in Blacksburg.