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Message to students: Peoria’s kind of cool

Less than eight days of actual classes separate me from unbounded, glorious freedom for two whole weeks before I don my cap and gown and graduate with honors.
Immediately after that, I’m moving to Galesburg to start my career as an education reporter for the town’s paper.
Of course I’m thrilled I secured a job, but after declaring Peoria as my primary residence for about four years, I’m a little teary-eyed too – literally.
I recently took a slow trip up and down Grandview Drive, blasting Dylan’s “Forever Young” and shedding a tear or two.
Sounds very teen-movie, but after all this time, I truly feel a sense of pride for Peoria.
Where else can you find that gorgeous Grandview Drive scenery? It really is enough to make you cry.
So this is my message to current students, especially freshmen: Don’t take this area for granted. Don’t discount this place because you’re from the suburbs of Chicago or ritzy neighborhoods in St. Louis and Peoria is beneath you.
It isn’t.
It’s a cool city with some sweet locally-owned gems, a pretty fabulous bar scene and thriving support for the arts.
But the best part? The sense of community that everyone in this city seems to have.
Maybe the reason I know a lot of names is because I work for the media, but I think it’s safe to say that Peorians know other Peorians.
We have local figureheads, local celebrities and local traditions. And more recently, there’s a sense of change in the air here. I feel things moving forward, I notice pockets of progressive thinking. 
We’ve always been forward-thinking, community-oriented and ready to party. Consider the history of this place: Peoria was officially named such in 1825, and for about five years, Chicago was part of Peoria County (at least until the almighty county of Cook was founded).
The town’s sharp divide over the issue of slavery pre-Civil War led to one of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates on the courthouse steps.
And before Prohibition, the liquor business was poppin’ – during that era, Peoria had 22 distilleries and several breweries and produced the “greatest amount of internal revenue tax on alcoholic beverages of any single revenue district in the U.S.,” says the Peoria Historical Society.
So folks were loaded with dollars and booze. That booming period led to much of the expansion in the city.
When I think about Peoria, I love to think about this history.
Those gorgeous homes on Grandview (and the equally massive ones a little closer to the Bradley Bubble on Moss Avenue) remind me of the Peoria I know I’ll remember – rich, historic and capable of holding an awesome party.
At the risk of sounding preachy, take advantage of what you have in this area. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking in some areas. There are so many places to grab a drink, and you’re almost always likely to spot someone you know.
There are bigger-city amenities, like a smattering of shopping areas, the cool arts scene, and festivals (the Peoria Jaycees International Beer Festival comes to mind, since it’s this weekend). But we still have the Cheers effect – everybody knows your name.
I’ll step off my soapbox now and let you bask in the glory of this river city.
It may smell like yeast on rainy days and I may get sick of hobos begging for money in Campustown, but this is home for me.
I’ll miss it.
Lauren Rees is a senior journalism major from Schaumburg. She is a Scout staff reporter.
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