Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Former Lakota East students express the differences between their hometown of Liberty Township and their current place of residence.

Rista Dahal, Staff





She embraces her friends in the lobby of her middle school, exchanging tearful goodbyes and promises to always stay in contact. These emotions tug at her, feeling as if her life has been flipped upside down. Emotions are strong for an eighth grader leaving behind the comfort of her home, community, and friends. She had spent the last month racing from sleepovers on weekdays to the mall on weekends, using up every last bit of time before the move. 


This was the understanding for Ava Fabian, currently a junior at Mount Lebanon High School, located in Pittsburgh. Fabian looks back and laughs but can vividly remember just how nervous she felt as West Chester was all of the life experience she had as an eighth grader. The abrupt move was prompted by her dad’s job transfer, having the opportunity to work from home for General Electric Aviation. Though her family loved the Liberty Township area, they chose to move. Fabian recalls not wanting to leave and the news being extremely hard on her. 


“I got super comfortable in Ohio. That is where I made my main group of friends and where I grew up and was starting to find myself. I knew that I was not going to know anybody on the first day of school,” Fabian told Spark. “That was terrifying to me.” 


The most difficult part for Fabian was leaving her friends. As soon as she heard the news, it went straight to her best friend, who helped her plan out the next month of activities. Fabian describes it as “the worst thing that could have ever happened” to her eighth-grade self. Having lived in Virginia before Ohio, she was no stranger to the process of moving but held much more attachment to West Chester. Fabian’s parents encouraged her with the move as it would be a clean slate and the opportunity to gain new experiences and perspectives. 


According to statistics from the Lakota East Guidance Department, 50 students have withdrawn from East to attend schools in other districts during the 2022 to 2023 school year. 


“My parents would tell me, ‘No one knows who you are, you can make a whole new personality if you want, you can introduce yourself differently if you want – it is a fresh start really,’” Fabian says.


After moving, however, Fabian found making friends was much easier than anticipated. She had dreaded being judged by a new group of people and moving around different friend groups. She credits this transition to the welcoming nature of her new peers. Their outgoing personalities and willingness to talk to the “new kid” contrasted with those she knew back home. 


“In West Chester, if they saw a new kid no one would reach out and ask them to sit at their table or hang out with them. I feel the people at Mount Lebanon are more outgoing than the kids I knew,” Fabian says. “That was a pretty big difference.”


Not only was it the fear of making friends but also the academic pressure of her new school. Fabian lives within the Mt. Lebanon School District, a highly ranked district in Pittsburgh known for its academics and is considered both a state and national leader in education. The school earned awards such as a silver ranking in the 2015 U.S. News and World Report Best High School Ranking – #10 in Pennsylvania. Because of this, Fabian was scared of not being “smart enough” as she had not grown up with these kids. 


She recalls taking an honors class after the move and the difference in rigor compared to her honors classes in West Chester, ending both semesters with a low grade. Though not the result that she had hoped for, Fabian credits the focus on academics in Lebanon with leading her to stay on top of her work. Seeing her friends and peers work hard throughout school led to an increase in motivation and as she jokingly says, “an obsession with the school.” 


In contrast to Liberty Township, Mt. Lebanon is a much older area with a majority of houses having been built during the 1920s compared to 2005 and younger houses that Fabian was accustomed to on her street. The newest addition to her house was built in 1960. Known as a historic district, with many older spots to visit such as uptown Lebanon with its coffee shops and record stores, she likens the area to Liberty Center which is much more spaced out. 


“In [Liberty Township] Ohio, there is one Liberty Center but Pittsburgh has multiple little Liberty Centers, all close by,” Fabian says. 


She notes one of the biggest shocks of the move was the ability to navigate a walkable community. The ability to walk is due largely to the countless sidewalks that allow Fabian to get to school in a short five-minute walk. Having moved while in middle school with no driver’s license, walkability was extremely convenient for Fabian. She did not need to ask her parents for rides to her friends’ houses and could even walk to the mall. 


 “It is a privilege to have the freedom to do what you want. I could walk uptown and go get a coffee if I wanted to, or go to the library,” she says. 


It is not just the walkable community but the easy access to public transportation systems that Fabian enjoys. She uses the light rails and trolley systems to get anywhere from downtown to the multiple malls in her area. Dubbed the “T” for locals, the train tracks for the trolley are usually in the middle of the road, allowing for convenient transportation downtown and to the malls. Though much of the area is very close by, with her best friend living right next door to her. 


“I have my license and all my friends have their license, but the T was used more when kids were in sixth and seventh grade,” says Fabian. “You can really go anywhere. The T is the only big public transportation though besides cars.”




There are many variations of transportation in areas outside of West Chester. Lakota East alumni Ashton Gibbs, a Freshman at the University of Washington majoring in Finance can take a train from one side of Washington to the south of Tacoma. The views of beautiful oceans and mountains offer a stark contrast to the fields of corn that Gibbs is used to. He knew that Seattle was where he wanted to go, the sights of the ocean and grand mountains called out to him during the summer of his junior year. 


“I always thought of college as a way to branch out from your hometown, not as a way to just keep yourself contained within the same group of people that you have grown up with,” Gibbs told Spark.


Though different from his hometown of West Chester, the distance allowed for a newfound independence. Gibbs recalls his first quarter having trouble managing his schedule and finding friends in a college that nobody from his high school attends. Joining Greek life through his fraternity and spending time in Washington outdoors, he compares the bustling atmosphere of his new town to the quietness of Liberty Township. 


“It is nice, I embrace it. A lot of the people who are born out here take all that for granted. Then whenever I go home, it is flat with a lot of corn,” Gibbs says. 


While living far from his hometown, Gibbs finds much nostalgia when returning, whether that be seeing his friends from high school or going to the parks where frequent cross-country practices took place. He describes his childhood playground as weathering over time. He says old neighbors moved out and new ones filled their places. 


Gibbs also says East has developed over time, whether that be with more diverse students or the addition of new venues around the high school – from restaurants and shops to even neighborhoods. 


“Things feel so little when you are there but so much more substantial when you leave,” Gibbs says. “When you go back and forth every couple of months it is crazy to see the difference.”


Additionally, a Niche study titled “Going Away to College” conducted by Luke Skurman found that most students stay closer to their hometowns when choosing a college. With 58 percent of High School graduates going within 100 miles of their hometowns and another 72 percent staying in the state. It was shown that only 11 percent of students go more than 500 miles away. 




The shift from hometown to college town offers a new atmosphere and the ability to thrive and change within that. Currently, a freshman at Purdue University, Lakota East alumni Evie Colpi says just how diverse the college environment is. With a best friend from Dubai and even Columbia and Venezuela, she credits West Chester’s diversity with allowing her to have new interactions with people from around the world. She considers herself lucky to have experience with multiple religions, races, and ethnicities when contrasted with some of her friends who grew up in small towns in Indiana without as much diversity. 


“Liberty Township is pretty comparable to Purdue’s demographic apart from the socio-economics, but Lakota East is almost more diverse than Purdue,” Colpi told Spark.  “I would say because Purdue is a pretty expensive school, it is less diverse socioeconomically than Lakota East.”


Having lived in the same house since her parents graduated college, Colpi pushed herself outside her comfort zone to meet different people and grow as a person away from home. She knew that had she gone to college near her family that she would always go back home; she exclaims that distance makes the heart grow fonder. 


The distance was a great way for Colpi to gain confidence from the way she dressed and the independence she felt from being in a new environment. Especially college where she believes that, unlike high school, students are less likely to be judged. The college scene allows for self-expression in clothing, hobbies, and friends and time to focus on yourself.


“Coming to West Lafayette and not talking about people from high school has made me grow so much as a person. It is the best decision I have ever made; I recommend a lot to others to push themselves out of their comfort zones,” says Colpi. 




For University of Tampa freshman Trinity Mullucey, a large part of the move from West Chester to Florida was processing that she could not go back home. Having moved with her family, it struck that home was now permanently in Florida. While her friends go back home on breaks, she enjoys her lacrosse clubs, outdoor activities, and the beach, admiring the beauty of Florida.


Mullucey says that she has had to adjust to many things, including the ever-changing weather (often having to evacuate class because of hurricanes), and football is less popular than hockey. However, Mullucey says that the job and educational opportunities in her new location are unparalleled. 


“There are lots of big colleges throughout Florida, while the University of Tampa is a smaller school, it all depends on what you like. They have a lot to offer in education,” Mullucey told Spark. 


During the process of moving, many factors must be considered for a long-term stay. Though a tedious process to some, the benefits of moving are expressed by Fabian, who mentions that sometimes you just need to feel those emotions and reassure yourself that it will be okay. 


“You have to go with the flow because everything is completely out of your control. You just cannot stress yourself out too much about it,” says Fabian. “Let things play out and let yourself feel those hard emotions.”