Reed Strength is a senior at the University of Montevallo, set to graduate in May of 2016. He is also the editor-in-chief of the university's newspaper, The Alabamian.

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What Montevallo is

“On the outside, Montevallo is this small town that looks like it’s only a street long. But I think once you become a part of the community, Montevallo turns less into a small town and more of a diverse pool of communities. Obviously you have the university, which looms large above the town with its presence and with its population, but then also you have this local flavor within the town itself. It’s a lot of things about Alabama that you’d expect but you also don’t- it’s got this rustic, small town, everybody knows each other, two places to eat kind of vibe to it. But there’s also a lot of heart, a lot of character. It’s a very community centered place even if it sometimes looks like the town residents are on one side and the students are on another. Every now and then you’ll see the two parties interact and that’s where the real flavor of Montevallo comes out.”

Montevallo at its best (and worst)

“To me, Montevallo is at its best when you’re walking around and you feel safe but you also feel like there’s things for you to do. You can go to the local coffee shop and see a band, but then you can also go to the university and sit on a random bench and have a unique conversation with somebody. It’s at its worst when it feels empty, and man, does it feel empty a lot. I think the students are extremely aware of that. Everything can shut down by 10, and then you’re just walking around this desolate little street and you’re like, ‘what actually happens here?’ It goes to bed early. But as much as that can be considered to be its worst, it can also be its best. You’re never lost in Montevallo. You always know where you’re going… you always feel like you’re where you’re supposed to be.”

On Diversity

“There’s something about Eclipse’s porch that I automatically think of as only in Montevallo. I feel like Montevallo as tagged as the liberal pocket of the South- it’s that place where everyone’s very accepting and it’s this big melting porch. That’s the interesting thing- on Eclipse’s porch, you’ll have these students who are very artistic and very flamboyant and exude this art school ‘thing’. But then you have these old men on the porch picking at their guitars in their own little world of song and community. It’s interesting- you have the community of Montevallo, you have the community of the Eclipse porch, but then even on that porch you have small sects of people who are doing their own thing but enjoying their own space. I don’t know if every college town can quite live up to that and have this meeting center where you don’t have to agree with everyone, but you can at least share the space and you’re gonna be fine.”

On rethinking expectations about small towns

“I was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and when I was in high school, all I could think of in this small gulf port city was I can’t wait to leave. Montevallo is connected to Birmingham, so I was like, I can go into Birmingham and see all these cool shows and adopt this bohemian lifestyle that I thought I really wanted. But now I spend so much more time in Montevallo, which is partly because I’m busy, but it’s also because it’s made me love that small town feel. It’s something that I was always very against when I was younger. When I was younger I thought, oh god, a small country town- that holds nothing for me. But I’ve found more community here and more kinship here than I ever thought I did. A small town like Montevallo makes you appreciate the small things- it makes you appreciate the one Mexican place in town that serves margaritas half price more times than you think it should, or it makes you look at the CVS and the local Smitherman’s- the pharmacies that are facing each other- and there’s never any animosity, but you still have this vision of corporate vs. small town. Because it’s a tighter community, it makes you appreciate its eccentricities. In a bigger city, you’d pay less attention to them. You don’t love parts of Montevallo, you love all of Montevallo.”

On leaving

“I plan to immediately leave [after graduating]- I do not want to get stuck here. That is a thing that happens, and as much as Montevallo has given me in terms of academics and friends and personal development, it’s like this is the nest and I’m ready to fly. It’s getting too small. The thing is that it’s not because Montevallo is a bad place, it’s not because it’s awful or too young or something like that- it just feels like a launchpad to me. And I feel like it feels like a launch pad to some, and a comfortable place to others, and that’s why people stay. It is such a small community that’s progressive but still connected to this small town Alabama ideal. They just find a lot of comfort in that- like, ‘why would I leave?’ I guess I see so many students who get jobs with the university and personally, I just can’t do that. I know I’m ready to leave, but I think people stay because any college is a place where you learn a lot about yourself. This college has such a small community that’s so in-demand for more people to help it grow, to help sustain it- so people think, ‘I can’t leave, it needs me.’ Or, ‘it’s such a big part of me.’ So that’s why people stay, I think.”