Growing up in Westport is one thing.
Coming back here to live is something else entirely.
That was the consensus, a couple of weeks ago, at a Green Village Initiative event attended filled with students from Staples’ Advanced Placement Environmental Science classes.
They were skeptical — if not downright incredulous — that anyone could ever return to Westport without first making incredible amounts of money in the materialistic world.
So GVI organized a meeting with Westporters who had done just that — that is, came back home without a pit stop on Wall Street.
One of the panelists was Justin Miller. The 2001 Staples graduate described why he left Westport after college — and why it was important to return.
It’s tough to make a career as a choral music performer, he said. He got his start as a choral director in California. And while he knew that teaching music was the way to go, the Golden State was not the place to do it.
He also knew he wanted to eventually raise a family here. When the Staples choral directing job opened up last spring, he went through the rigorous application process — and got it.
“You should go away,” Justin told the students. “Get a grasp on the rest of the world.
“I was excited to leave. As I went, I learned and appreciated what Westport has to offer.”
When GVI leader Dan Levinson opened the floor to questions, the discussion veered to money. Because the classes had been discussing sustainable local economies, the issue of mom-and-pop shops arose.
Justin pointed out that many small businesses exist — but are often overlooked.
And Mitchells — the high-end clothing store — is actually a grandma-and-grandpa business.
Driving home later, Justin said, he realized that the town is filled with places like Fortuna’s, Angelina’s and Westport Pizzeria. Even Planet Pizza and Bertucci’s are small chains.
In any other town, he noted, the equivalent of the Post Road would be lined with Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters.
“The world has changed,” he said. “In some respects, Westport has had slower change — in terms of a close-knit community aspect — than many other places.”
He was impressed with the thoughtfulness of the students’ questions.
One of the harshest young critics of the ability to return to — and sustain — your hometown came from a boy who recited statistics about average incomes and tax structures. He said he’d love to come back after college, but knows he must go elsewhere first, to acquire wealth.
“We talked about different kinds of finances,” Justin said. “It can be done. I’m a music guy.”
Another student declared that he’d go somewhere else, learn about the world — and maybe not want to return.
“When I went away,” Justin replied, “that’s when I realized how special Westport was.
He paused. “And still is.”