Whenever I ask my students how many of them are planning to stay in Maine after their graduation, only two or three hands go up out of 30. With Maine having the oldest population in the United States, I always joke that they are leaving me here with the “old folks.”

I get it. At 18, I wanted out as well. I moved to Florida first, and over a period of 10 years, I kept moving farther and farther away, ending up in Hawaii. But something about Maine drew me back to the “way life should be” as I neared 30.

I wanted my future children to grow up here, to experience the same upbringing I had. There’s something to be said for being a “Mainer.”

Everywhere I lived in the country, people always thought it was so cool that I was from Maine, although they were surprised that I didn’t have an accent like they do in all of Stephen King’s movies. We’re known as good, hardworking people who utilize true Yankee ingenuity. I mean, who wouldn’t be proud to be a “Mainer”?

I now am the proud parent of a rambunctious 5-year-old boy, and I know I made the right choice in choosing to come back so that he could grow up here. We are so fortunate to live in an area where he can go sailing in the summer months, grow pumpkins in the fall, learn how to pond skate in the winter and ride his four-wheeler through the mud in the spring.

And I have to be honest; technically, he’s the only true Mainer among us. I am reminded periodically that I am not a native because I was born in (gasp) Massachusetts and moved here with my family when I was 3.

I try to keep that piece of information to myself when I hear people complaining about Maine becoming northern Massachusetts, lest they think I’m conspiring with the enemy.

Kidding aside, I know that I made the right choice moving back here. I am so glad that I left and experienced life in the South, Midwest, West Coast and the islands. It taught me to be flexible and open to new opportunities and provided me with the tools to be successful in life.

I wouldn’t have the appreciation for Maine had I not left all those years ago. The core values of the people living here make this a great state.

I predict that a lot of the younger people who leave for greener pastures will realize what a unique place this is once they experience other ways of life. I encourage them to leave so that they can understand why Maine is so different from other states and why being a “Mainer” is something to be proud of.

So go ahead, pack up and go live in California or Colorado (I did), and I’ll be right here waiting for you.