For as long as I can remember, I always knew the stigma around boarding school was that 'problem children' were forced to go there so that their burdened and hard working parents did not have to deal with them. And for as long as I can remember, I said I never wanted to go there.

But in 8th grade, that all changed. I was a student at a small private school in Middleburg, VA, just 230 students, where most kids headed off up and down the East Coast to various private and boarding schools. For the first time, I found myself considering boarding school, and telling myself that the boarding school stigma wasn't everything to it.

water, bird, grass
Madi Johnson

I stepped foot on Mercersburg Academy's campus in 2011, on a cold, rainy day in October, and instantly fell in love. And not just with the campus, which in my opinion, is one of the prettiest out there - even more so than most college campuses - but with the people, who were amazingly kind and friendly, even to complete strangers.

So when I found myself on campus in August of 2012, I instantly expected to feel at home. Of course, I was wrong. Going to college, you know that leaving home for the first time is always harder than you expect it to be. But instead of leaving home at 18, I left home at 14. I found myself uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment, and began to question my decision.

beer, cake, tea
Madi Johnson

But, as it often does, everything got better with time.

I found some amazing friends, many of whom I still talk to every week, if not every day. I met amazing teachers who would become my mentors for years, and who I still stop at school to see on my way home from college to break up a seven hour drive.

I learned that I was not always right, but often wrong, and that my assumptions were usually wrong, particularly about people. I saw that the quietest people were often the most interesting, and that I could create connections across boarders - literally - through the people who lived in my dorm who were from all over the world. 

wine, beer
Madi Johnson

Boarding school did not just teach me about the world, about cultures completely different than mine, about hardships that other people faced that I never would, but also about myself.

I learned independence from dorm life, from learning to manage my homework during required study hall, to having to do my own laundry for the first time. I learned self-confidence through the connections and bonds that I established myself with an entirely new community of 430 other amazing, incredible individuals on my campus.

I learned that I could survive a lot of struggles in my life, and that what you think are the darkest times are not always so when you're surrounded by people who care about you unconditionally. I learned about mistakes that I should not make, in order to have a life beyond the walls of my boarding school.

Madi Johnson

I learned that rules are sometimes justified, and that a 10 o'clock curfew actually gives you some great sleep - I'm looking at you, college dorms. I learned that living with only girls gave me a great comfort, but I also missed the company of the boys who I was great friends with when we had to separate to go back to our rooms every night. 

I formed bonds that will never break, and learned what friendship really means. I learned that living with your best friend is one of the coolest and most fun things you will ever do, especially when you don't have to pay for an apartment yourself.

tea, cake, pizza, beer
Madi Johnson

I learned about love, life, leadership, relationships, loss, consequences, and the true definition of family. My family will always be those that I met at Mercersburg, and the people there will always have my utmost respect and all my love. 

I refer to Mercersburg as my second home.

It will always, always be that to me. It is my second home, where I grew, where I became the person that I am today, and a place I hope to tell people about for the rest of my life in hopes that others will have the same experience that I did.

beer, tea, coffee
Madi Johnson

I will always remember the special moments, the long paint-covered night during Paint the Numbers, the craziness of Irving Marshall, the carillon in the chapel, plays in the Burgin, dance concerts, Monday night dinners, Swanksgving, declamation, MAPL games - even the bus rides - Boxer Bikini Run, and treasure them because they were so wholly unique to Mercersburg.

So to my one true love, thank you. Thank you for teaching me everything I know today, for leading to my passions, for opening so many doors to so many opportunities that I never would have had anywhere else. Thank you for everything, and I hope that I will continuously pay back everything I earned from you.

To the students there, to students at boarding schools, to anyone considering any boarding school at all - I promise you will not regret it. And you will love college too, but your boarding school will always be your home.

Madi Johnson

With full hearts and loud swelling cheers.