The nostalgic comfort from stuffed animals provides instant reminders of home, easing the transitioning process for incoming undergraduates.
College Companions: Students and Their Stuffed Animals
Many students go to college with one guaranteed friend — a childhood stuffed animal.
Moving to college can bring stress as students grapple with an unfamiliar and new setting. The nostalgic comfort from stuffed animals provides instant reminders of home, easing the transitioning process for incoming undergraduates.
When second-year Julia Armstrong’s parents asked if her stuffed lamb Guy made the college packing list, the answer was an automatic “yes.”
Armstrong said she received her stuffed animal when she was 3 years old. A white lamb with a baby blanket attached, Guy was named by Armstrong herself.
“He’s always been a constant in my life,” Armstrong said while holding the well-loved Guy. “I think I’ve only gone maybe three nights in my life without him.”
When Armstrong was sick or hurt, the first thing she would ask her parents for was Guy. She recalled an unfortunate kindergarten weekend where she left Guy in her cubby after school. Hysterically crying to her mom, Armstrong’s mother did what she had to do.
After buying a similar ‘Guy’ from the same company as a baby shower gift, Armstrong’s mom was well equipped with a supplemental stuffed animal. Before the Guy look-alike was given as a gift, it was used as a stand-in for the real Guy to help Armstrong sleep.
Social work professor Nora Wynn said many students bring stuffed animals to college to blend aspects of childhood into the next stage of their lives.
“We see college as a big transition from adolescence into adulthood and stuffed animals, which are often associated with childhood, represent who you were as a young person,” Wynn said. “Being able to bring this important figure of who you were as a child into your adult life can ease that transition.”
Second-year Gavin Williams brought a teddy bear named Concorde with him to his dorm. The stuffed animal was originally his grandmother’s, named after the Concorde commercial jet airplane. The small brown bear became Williams’ when it was accidentally placed in his stroller.
The rest is history.
“She used to be a lot fluffier before I tripped and dropped her in a puddle,” Williams said, looking at his bear. “I honestly can’t remember a time where I did not have Concorde.”
The same goes for third-year Allison Kruse and her stuffed elephant Elsie.
“Elsie has been so worn down, she’s really only just fabric and matted fur,” Kruse said. “She used to be fluffy and bright but she faded.”
Kruse bought Elsie with her mom’s Kohl’s Cash when she was three. Kruse said she has many other stuffed animals, but Elsie was always the favorite.
“I would feel bad for my other toys, because Elsie always got the most attention,” Kruse said.
Third-year Kelsey Schuliger recalls the moment the stuffed animal from her aunt became special. After a “horrific” sleepover with her middle school volleyball team, she brought a stuffed version of Buckbeak the hippogriff from the “Harry Potter” series along with her. The other girls at the sleepover, who were all older than Schuliger, took Buckbeak away and hid it.
“They lied and told me they threw him out because one of them urinated on it,” Schuliger said. “I got him back in the morning when they got bored of tormenting me.”
Ever since the experience, Buckbeak has gone everywhere with Schuliger.
“He gives me a sense of strength and familiarity when I’m away from home,” Schuliger said.
On top of third-year Fionnuala Russell’s bedspread lies a green teddy bear wearing a black bow with green clovers.
“His name is Green Bear,” Russell says. “Which was very original of me at 2 years old.”
Russell received Green Bear as a gift from her godfather at his deployment, which was the last time Russell saw her godfather alive. Since then, Green Bear has spent every night in Russell’s bed. She said Green Bear is a beacon of strength for her.
“It’s so bizarre to me that inanimate objects can have such an impact on people,” Russell said.
Green Bear usually goes everywhere with Russell, but there are some exceptions. She studied abroad in Rome last semester and Green Bear stayed behind — she didn’t want to risk him getting lost in a different country.
“Some things are too important,” she said.
A white stuffed rabbit accompanies second-year Rianne Gemilo on her college journey. Named Bunny, the rabbit was the first stuffed animal Gemilo received from their mother after immigrating to America from the Philippines when she was seven.
Although having a stuffed animal as a college student can be embarrassing for some, Gemilo remains unbothered.
“You get stuffed animals from loved ones and partners,” Gemilo said. “Honestly, if you don’t have one with you at college that’s kind of sad.”
Featured image by Juliana Logli / The Phoenix