May 17th, 2009. The day began like any other. Aaron walked into church that sabbath morning a boy, not knowing that in less than 5 hours he would become a man. He whispered his prayers and sang his hymns and as he walked out the doors a surge of courage overcame his entire being. The idea had been resonating in his mind for weeks, but at the time he did not feel he was ready. With confidence and his mother’s permission, the phenomenon occurred at 4:18pm. Aaron Van Maanen joined FaceBook.
Next came a crucial part in Aaron’s life, his first FaceBook status. He was and is a simple man, and plainly wanted to inform the world of his new lifestyle change. The brief and straightforward status consisted of “got facebook!” There are times in life that define who you become as a person, and after Aaron waited for hours in hopes of a single “like” or “comment” on his status, he was faced with a decision. “Do I continue gracing my 12 FaceBook friends with my whimsical thoughts and ideas? Or do I call it quits after one unsuccessful status?” I am glad to notify everyone 12 year old Aaron was not discouraged in the slightest. Thus began the seven years Aaron has been actively using Mark Zuckerberg’s gift to the world.
Aaron survived the summer by staying in close contact with his slowly increasing number of FaceBook friends. As seventh grade began life began to get busier for Aaron. Sports consumed his mind, and unfortunately broke his bones. The first season of football ended abruptly with a broken finger, but that didn’t stop him from participating in basketball, baseball and track. He had a hopeful heart that he could keep up with his friends and participate in the sports they loved. School did not seem as important in middle school, not near as much as the socializing and friendships that influenced many of his decisions. He entered eighth grade with even more hope in his adolescent heart, basing his level of success off of sports accomplishments, which at this point in his life were very few. Eighth grade football was intended to be his moment of redemption. Aaron walked on the field for his first and last football game, as he broke his collarbone during the first play. It crushed his dreams and cartilage, once again tearing him away from what he thought was the center of his life. Aaron battled through the rest of his middle school career with his locker partner and best friend, Blake Van Vark. There was one particular difference that Aaron experienced apart from his peers. As the majority of students went through the “awkward stage” of their life, puberty had seemed to side step him. High school doesn’t wait for you to experience pubescence, and Aaron was thrust into the jungle of high school at five feet, 3 inches tall. Weighing in at 95 pounds, he was ready to begin the next stage of his life.
(From left to right: Tom Palmer, Aaron Van Maanen, Blake Van Vark)
Emotions were tense during the summer months leading to Aaron’s freshman year. It was a summer of decisions, whether or not to continue participation in certain activities. The dream of being a “jock” was slipping through his fingers, yet he decided to give football one more try. He gave full effort against his post-pubescent teammates, and averaged a total of 34 seconds per game. He would see playing time if the team was either winning or losing by 20 points. He finished the season injury free, which was a personal accomplishment that was greater than any playing time he could’ve gotten. Life began taking a drastic turn during the middle of the football season. A close friend of Aaron’s signed him and others up to perform a freshman homecoming skit. This posed many problems for Aaron, as he struggled even talking in front of a classroom. His eyes would begin watering and close, and panic would ensue. He thought there was no way he would ever be able to stand in front of the entire student body and try to be funny. His friends wouldn’t allow him to get out of the skit, and they went down in history as the first freshman group to not get boo-ed off the stage. For some reason while he was on the stage, his eyes did not water and they remained open for the entirety of the skit. Aaron considered it luck and never wanted to step on a stage again. His friends understood that, and signed him up for an improvisation team. This event changed his life, and at the time Aaron did not want any part of it. Speech was the polar opposite activity from sports, and he did not know what he or his friends would think of it. Aaron decided to give speech a try, and as he continued playing in band and jazz band, he slowly saw his interests shifting. Improv ended up being Aaron’s favorite activity his freshman year, and he used his lack of height and weight for humor. Friendships grew with the new extra-curricular events Aaron was participating in, but he held onto his previous relationships. His now high school locker partner and best friend Blake began finding interest in different activities, but maintained the friendship grown throughout their childhood. Aaron had an incredibly joy-filled freshman year, and was ready to enter sophomore year with more excitement than he could’ve imagined having for school.
Aaron’s sophomore year began without football. He joined the cross country team for the social aspect, and was warmly welcomed by a loving community of students and coaches. It was great to move from football and feel accepted immediately. The school year was meeting all of Aaron’s previous expectations. Life was moving forward and then came to a stop. The foreign feeling Aaron experienced next was something that can not be put into words. As he was on his first date with a girl he always adored from afar, he received news that tore his heart. His friend, Blake, had been in an accident. He was gone, and life became numb. Aaron and five friends had the honor of carrying Blake in his casket, and it was the most difficult emotional experience Aaron has ever encountered. The year continued and many events were held to honor Blake’s life, and his life continue’s to bless others today. The tragedy was devastating, and sophomore year seemed to end as quickly as it began.
(Blake Van Vark (left), Aaron Van Maanen (right))
The transition from such a unique year into becoming an upperclassmen was a unique experience for Aaron. Junior and senior year were filled with highs and lows that are expected to come with the final years of your high school career. Junior year Aaron finally hit puberty, which was a huge relief for him. Aaron had the opportunity to step into roles of leadership in the church, as well as in the sports he was participating in. He was a senior leader on his cross country team, a senior captain on the tennis team and a section leader in marching band. He also branched out and played a lead role in a play his senior year, one of his most memorable experiences of his high school career. Friendships were strengthened and as graduation arrived, the class that encountered loss and hurt was unified one last time. At that moment, Aaron felt like high school flew by, and looks back upon all of the moments that defined who he is today. He didn’t think he was ready, but Aaron spent one last summer in Pella and left for his freshman year of college.
(Greg Frommelt (left), Aaron Van Maanen (right))
Freshman year of college began with an eagerness and unexpectedness that Aaron knew would accompany his first year. There was a certain event that changed the course of Aaron’s life. Dance Marathon came into his life quickly and deeply impacted Aaron as well as many others. He was able to be a morale captain and led a group of 40 students to support their miracle kid, Benny Barnard. The event was a complete success, raising over 278,000 dollars. Many relationships were built through the organization, and by the time Aaron finished his freshman year he knew enough people to make UNI feel like a “second home”. He knew he had made the right choice of schools.
(Benny Barnard (left), Aaron Van Maanen (right))
The summer after his freshman year, Aaron fully realized the financial situation that college bestows on the students who decide to attend. He spent a majority of time in the town’s local coffee shop, “Smokey Row”, making coffee and saving money for his sophomore year of college. Right as summer was beginning, Aaron briefly met a girl and was taken aback by her beauty. He was relieved when she had even more of a beautiful heart, one of the most caring and compassionate people Aaron had ever met. As he made trips to visit her, he realized young love was not cheap, and when not with her he was right back at Smokey Row.
Time is moving fast, and Aaron has found himself back at the University of Northern Iowa for his sophomore year of college. He is looking forward to enriching the relationships built freshman year, and to continue to grow with his “UNI family.” The future is unknown but Aaron is optimistic as he will be surrounded by a loving community as he attempts to figure college out. He will never forget the people who influenced and shaped the man he is today. It has been a long road and he looks forward to where it will take him next.