Why setting down roots in the region makes sense

Let me introduce myself. I’m Bruce Ruotsala from New Ipswich, and I was recently honored with the designation of valedictorian for Franklin Pierce University’s class of 2014. I attended public school in the Mascenic Regional School District for 12 years and went on to complete four years of undergraduate education at Franklin Pierce’s campus in Rindge.

I wanted to stay local because I belong to a strong cultural and religious community. My Christian faith is the most important part of my life. The worldwide community of believers in Jesus Christ is really unparalleled. This community is the most real and powerful for me in my local church federation, the church of my youth. The Finnish community in particular is tightly knit due to its Laestadian Lutheran roots. As a group, we are similar in our heritage, so it would be almost impossible to replicate the level of acceptance and oneness I feel on a daily basis.

So when I was looking for a college, I wanted to be able to retain this strong cultural backing. Family and church ties make the location more important than the job or opportunity. I would rather stay local to keep what I have than to leave for purportedly greater opportunities. Faith, family and country come long before achieving the greatest amount of wealth and honor in this world. I’ve continually turned down opportunities that would try to pry me away from this community. Having more money and title are hardly as important as retaining a community that supports and nurtures faith and morality.

Even though I graduated valedictorian of my high school class, I was not entirely sure that I was willing or ready to attend college. After high school, I deferred matriculation at Franklin Pierce for a year in order to travel and gain a little direction. During this time, I traveled to Guatemala, India and Russia with my church’s mission organization, and traveled around the country for two summers. Although I still love to travel, I definitely believe that it is important to set deep roots in a community. Since I was a commuter student at a local school, I was able to actually continue to cultivate my community ties while in school, and match what I was learning in school with “real life.”

There are a number of special challenges faced by a first-generation college student. These challenges, however, I wouldn’t trade. Although my parents encouraged me to continue my education, the initiative had to be entirely my own. I like that the college planning was set on my shoulders, not those of my parents, as I’ve since found out is often the case. I attended college because I wanted to and believed that it would benefit me, instead of doing it out of expectation or peer pressure. At the same time, I didn’t have anybody to help me navigate the special challenges and bureaucratic hurdles of college testing, registration and entrance.

Coming from a family of extremely moderate means, I had to find financial aid, scholarships, and any way of paying for or financing an education. Nonetheless, I believe that this is really the way it should be, so the student is engaged and has a stake in his own education. I knew exactly what it cost, and was going to squeeze every ounce of value out of the faculty and staff I came in contact with. Throughout four years, I was on my own to figure out the system and get what I could out of it. This experience in and of itself has helped me in my job search, career aspirations and personal financial management.

While looking for colleges, I had no doubt that I wanted to find something local. While the “college experience” is something that many teens seem to be looking for, I could not avoid that enough. What I’m referring to is the immature, irresponsible and immoral party scene which many incoming college students cannot wait to experience. Many parents seem to think that it will be good for their children to “experience the world” during these years before they settle down. Regardless, I find this not only wrong, but repulsive. There should be no expectation that a student can go to school to dodge responsibility for another four years. There’s no such thing as “deferred morality,” where we can enjoy the pleasures of the world for a time and expect to come out unscathed. While college students tend to mature nominally before their graduation, they are doubtless left with the scars of their experiences. Besides emotional effects, some students actually face lifetime debilitation due to DUI accidents or STDs. We should never be encouraging a lifestyle that is self-destructive. I’ve been taught through my upbringing that a life which emphasizes true relationships, a clean conscience and an eternal focus is much more worthwhile than short-term “fun.”

As I continue my studies pursuing CPA licensure and an Master of Science in accounting, I have no intention to leave my home community. Many decry the lack of “activities” and “attractions” in such a small town. My response is that the people make a location worth living in. In many ways, New Hampshire is ideally situated. With a little driving to the larger towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, just about any opportunity or attraction is within reach. The rest of the time, however, we can enjoy our seclusion and New Hampshire lifestyle. A small town is a place where your opinion and vote matters, and where one individual can make substantive change for the better. Although I will probably end up doing a lot of commuting to Nashua or Manchester if I stay in public accounting, it will be entirely worth it.

I’m willing to put up with a little inconvenience to be able to live in and hopefully raise a family in my hometown. As with any place, it’s what you make of it, and I’ve decided that I can live a perfectly fulfilled and contented life among friends and family in this small town.

Bruce Ruotsala lives in New Ipswich. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Franklin Pierce University, with a double major in accounting-finance and music.

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