open letter to freshmen

Brent Finnegan -- August 23rd, 2006

Greetings, JMU freshmen: all 3,700 of you (and over 200 EMU freshmen, as well). Congrats on getting accepted. Welcome to the next four (or five or six or seven) years of your life. This is Harrisonburg.

If you’re an introverted bookworm, you may never see the town outside your dorm. Not this semester, anyway. But in the event you ever venture off campus, there are a few things you might want to know about the ‘burg.

If your family has turkey for Thanksgiving, there’s a chance it comes from Rockingham County. What kids refer to as “that dog food smell” after it rains is actually grain (corn, soybeans, etc) for the chicken and turkey farms (there’s lots of grain in dry dog food, too). Those big concrete towers without windows on the north side of town–those are the feed mills. The trains that cut through the JMU campus and make you late for class–they’re transporting the grain. Complain all you want, but it is what it is. By the end of your senior year, you probably won’t even notice it.

This town’s not quite as conservative as you might think. Sure, Harrisonburg voted for Bush in 2004. But collectively, we picked Democrats in three out of the four state races last year. Most JMU students that could vote locally don’t, so if you don’t like the political landscape, you can blame student apathy for at least some of it.

The city is changing. It’s getting bigger, becoming a little more modern. Believe it or not, there are things to do here. It’s changing too fast for some, not fast enough for others. Downtown is slightly more bohemian that it used to be, but this is still a blue collar town (how bohemian can you really be with two Super Wal-Marts in town?). We will never be Charlottesville, nor should we be. We’re Harrisonburg.

From Googlism:

harrisonburg is rich with tradition and excitement
harrisonburg is notoriously limited
harrisonburg is a very attractive market
harrisonburg is a college town
harrisonburg is a nice little city
harrisonburg is blacks run and blacks run is harrisonburg
harrisonburg is the center of commerce and travel for the area and is known for its booming poultry industry
harrisonburg is but a memory
harrisonburg is free

It’s not really a bad place to live (especially if you’ve ever lived in the Midwest or Idaho). I hope you enjoy your stay here. Just, you know, try not to start any riots or anything.


4 Responses to “open letter to freshmen”

  1. Adam Sharp says:

    More advice for new students:

    DO – Go off campus.
    DO NOT – Go off campus in groups larger than 4.

    DO – Visit local restaurants.
    DO NOT – Sit on the balcony of Calhoun’s or Dave’s, eat at the Wolfe Street Klines, and don’t go to Taste of Thai on Saturdays – those are for us.

    DO – Drive your car before 7 AM or after 6 PM.
    DO NOT – Drive your car after 7 AM and before 6 PM while talking on the phone and decide to change lanes without a signal – some of us are NRA members, and others are just plain ornery.

    DO – Buy books at places besides the purple monster.
    DO NOT – Take all the comfortable chairs at Barnes and Noble.

  2. finnegan says:

    It’s alright, kids. Adam used to write for the Breeze. He was one of those student/townies, so he’s allowed to use caps in his DOs and DO NOTs.

    I only took a few classes at JMU, so I’ll just stick to kindly advising against drunken riots. They always sound a lot cooler than they really are, especially when the sun comes up.

  3. Adam Sharp says:

    Too true, too true.

    Here is an old column I wrote in 2002 for The Breeze welcoming students to JMU:
    Dumpster diving helps environment

  4. Don Beasley says:

    A short addendum on those grain towers: if they didn’t vent the dog-food smell, they’d explode.

    My, that would be a mess.

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