The transition to college for many high school students is a difficult one. But for students coming from a small town and high school — the transition proves to be a bigger challenge than most.

Growing up in McAlester, Oklahoma, Kelci McKendrick was shaped by the only town she had ever called home. But the adjustment of moving to a new town over six times bigger than her hometown and attending a college over 688 times bigger than her graduating high school class was more difficult than she expected.

Today, McKendrick reflects back on her experiences, appreciating the growth that shapes her future.

Amanda Johnson: Where did you grow up?

Kelci McKendrick: I grew up in McAlester, Oklahoma, which is two hours east of Norman. The population is 20,000, and I actually went to high school about 15 miles away from McAlester in a town called Crowder.

AJ: Tell me more about your hometown.

KM: I spent 18 years living in McAlester, like the outskirts, inside — kind of a little bit of everywhere. We had one Walmart, which was like the closest Walmart within an hour each direction. So moving up (to Norman) where there are four Walmart’s that are within 15 minutes of each other is kind of baffling, because I used to have to drive 30 minutes to get to the closest Walmart when I lived in the outskirts of McAlester.

AJ: How did living in a small town shape your high school experience?

KM: I graduated with 38 people in my class, which was the biggest it’s been in five years. I had to drive there every day, and I knew where all the cops in McAlester hid, so I knew when to slow down and when to speed back up to my usual 15 miles over the speed limit. I had my birthday parties growing up in McAlester at McDonald’s… We had one bowling alley, which I used to go to a lot, but there’s not really a bunch to do growing up there. My friends and I would usually just drive around and maybe go to Walmart to hang out or get food.

AJ: After high school, did you always plan on coming to the University of Oklahoma?

KM: Yes, I always wanted to go to OU. Ever since fourth grade when I started watching football games with my parents, I would always be like, ‘I’m going to go there one day, and I’m going to be a nurse, or I’m going to be a teacher,’ and then, I eventually settled on journalism. But, I wasn’t quite prepared for the shock of moving to Norman from McAlester, especially from high school, because I graduated with 38 people in my class and now there’s like over 4,000 juniors, and I probably know 50 or 100 (people) in my class — which is a lot more than I did in high school.

AJ: How was the transition coming to the University of Oklahoma from such a small town and high school?

KM: The transition was kind of difficult. In McAlester there’s not a lot of traffic, so when I moved up here to Norman for school, I had to learn how to cut people off… Just the amount of people walking around everywhere was weird… At first, I was always lost because there was a sea of people, and I wasn’t used to it at all. During the first couple weeks of classes, I had really bad anxiety about just trying to get to the library because there were way too many people for me. I got used to it though — I learned how to drive properly in Norman, bulldoze through crowds of people, and just kind of go and not be bothered by the amount of people. I really just learned how to embrace it… It was scary at first, but I’m really grateful I actually moved up here, and I get to go to OU.

AJ: How was the transition academically?

KM: College is not at all like high school, and I feel like high school didn’t really prepare me… because it was a smaller high school and not a lot of AP classes were offered. I wasn’t necessarily prepared for everything that was going to come — it was like a big wave, and my back was turned the other way. All throughout high school, I had all A’s up until I got a B in biology… and I was bummed about it but that’s what made me realize that grades aren’t super important. I strive for A’s, but sometimes, I’ll fall short and get a B. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I was first applying to OU, and I was like, ‘There are so many smart people, I have to get this on the ACT, and I have to do all this stuff to prepare.’ I was valedictorian of my class, and I got (to OU), and my first semester I got three B’s and one A… I was distraught and thought, ‘Oh man, I’m really slacking,’ but I’m doing the best that I can.

AJ: In what ways has your town shaped you into who you are today?

KM: McAlester shaped me in the way that it prepared me in the best way it could. It was small, and I learned how to make the best out of anything I could. I took the little things and made them important and fun.

AJ: Do you see yourself moving back to McAlester after graduation?

KM: Oh no, not at all. After I graduate, I don’t want to go back to McAlester just because it’s such a small town… I loved growing up there, but there is so much more the world has to offer. Maybe when I get older, and I start to have kids… I might go back because that’s where my mom is, and I might need her help. But no, I don’t want to live in McAlester (after graduation). I think that actually if I would have stayed in McAlester after I graduated high school and gone to (college) there, I probably would have gotten pregnant or married or something. That’s just kind of the vibe I got from McAlester… So, no, I don’t want to go back and live there (after graduation) — there’s so much more than just McAlester.

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