F&M Stories

Lily Finds a Rose

Lily Vining ’24 had no way of knowing a global pandemic would rock the world during her college search. But through it all, she found the perfect home in the Red Rose City.

As I put on my turn signal and took the exit marked “Downtown Lancaster” in June, I had a momentary flashback to the first time I made this drive, more than three years prior.

Picture this: it is April 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shelves are ransacked of toilet paper and canned goods. Death tolls climbed on the news, though I didn’t know anyone with the disease. My hometown of Wallingford, Conn., did not experience as much tragedy as neighboring cities of New York and Boston, but we were frightened, regardless. In the midst of it all, I was trying to finish my senior year from my dining room table, grueling over AP practice exams and ruminating on my future.

When I applied for college the previous fall, I clearly had no crystal ball to predict a global pandemic. All I knew was that I wanted to go to college—and get out of my home state. Despite the incredible universities in close proximity (Yale being a 20-minute drive from my house), I knew I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and explore somewhere new. Which is how I found a small Pennsylvania liberal arts college.

"I knew I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and explore somewhere new. Which is how I found a small Pennsylvania liberal arts college."

Lily Vining '24

‘You Will Just Know’

I was enticed by Franklin & Marshall’s commitment to academic excellence, community engagement, and global education. At this time, too, I knew studying abroad was in my cards. I also heard wonderful testimonials about the eclectic city of Lancaster.

I couldn’t wait for my first visit—which I planned to do, if accepted, over spring break.

With acceptance letters arriving from colleges and the looming deadline of May 1 to make my deposit, I was in a bind. F&M was my top choice based on all of its qualities on paper, as well as the connection I felt after a student tour guide (who became a good friend), gave me a personal “tour” of the campus over FaceTime. But I couldn’t commit to four years at a college I had never visited. 

Which is what led to my first drive to Lancaster during the height of the pandemic, in April 2020. As our white Honda Civic crossed the George Washington Bridge into a deserted New York, I turned to my mom.

“How will I know I am making the right decision?” I asked.

“You will just know,” was her response.

Was she right? Of course.

"From the moment I set foot on campus, I knew I could spend four years at F&M. The beautiful brick buildings, the cheerful blue Adirondacks spread throughout Hartman Green, the cherry blossom trees in full bloom... made me feel at home."

Lily Vining '24

From the moment I set foot on campus, I knew I could spend four years at F&M. The beautiful brick buildings, the cheerful blue Adirondacks spread throughout Hartman Green, the cherry blossom trees in full bloom, and yes, even the squirrels, who had completely taken over campus when students vacated, made me feel at home. I also expected to find a completely deserted campus without students in residence, but I was mistaken; numerous Lancaster locals on walks through campus with their dogs or young children gave us a kind (socially distanced) wave and smile. From this detail, I could tell F&M was integrated into the community around it, which sealed my decision. That night, I put my deposit down. I was going to be a Diplomat.

Since that fateful day more than three years ago, I have made many drives from Connecticut to Lancaster— now in my own car, still a Honda Civic, and never again over the George Washington Bridge; another global pandemic aside, I doubt I’ll ever encounter light traffic driving straight through New York City. Now, my car’s GPS registers Lancaster as “home.” And so do I.

Summer in the City

After three years at F&M, though, I still felt that I had not fully experienced the Red Rose City. Apart from trips to Mean Cup, Central Market, and the surrounding stores — journeys that had gotten scarce during the demands of the semester — I realized I had not explored nearly as much of the city as I had hoped.

So this past summer, I set my mind to embrace the experience of “Lancaster local.” I tried a new restaurant every week; sought out live music and other events downtown; drove through the farmland in search of hiking trails and roadside produce markets; and accompanied a group of students on a scavenger hunt around a neighborhood I had never been to, discovering community gardens and breathtaking murals. I visited new coffee shops and bookstores, getting to know Lancastrians along the way who told me all the things they love about the city.

"My bucket list grew more quickly than I could eat, dance, and hike my way through it. But in the process, I developed a deeper sense of belonging in F&M’s home city."

Lily Vining '24

Despite my new efforts to live the life of a local, my bucket list grew more quickly than I could eat, dance, and hike my way through it. But in the process, I met incredible people, explored countless new destinations, and developed a deeper sense of belonging in F&M’s home city.

During my last year of college, it is tempting to mentally jump to May 11, 2024, when I walk across the stage, receive my diploma and turn my tassel. But I am also not ready to say goodbye to the College and the city I have learned to call “home.” So many items remain on my bucket list. But I’ve realized that it’s not about marking experiences as “done.” It’s about appreciating all there is to offer here and now instead of constantly thinking about the future. This is where I have grown into the young adult I am today, a place that will forever be in my heart.

It is home.

This story first appeared in Franklin & Marshall Magazine (Winter 2024). Lily Vining ‘24 interned for F&M’s Office of Communications and graduated with a double major in English and classics. She is now a digital content specialist at WebstaurantStore.com, the largest online distributor of restaurant supplies and equipment. Follow her wellness podcast, Level Up with Lily

Illustration by Robert Nuebecker

Illustration by Robert Nuebecker

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