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Matthew K. Pelkey: Who knew Plan B would be so terrific?

Why did I choose Buffalo? I didn’t – at least not in 2002 when I first moved here. In fact, Buffalo was my fallback plan, my Plan B.

I grew up in a small town in the Adirondacks, and Buffalo was never a place I saw myself. It wasn’t until fate offered me an opportunity that the indirect journey to Buffalo began.

As a junior in high school, I was offered a spot in a foreign exchange program in Australia. Six months there during my senior year would mean missing half of my courses. But what other graduating senior from the Adirondacks would have a foreign exchange program on his resume? I was going.

My mother implored me to apply to at least one college prior to my departure Down Under – a safety school. That school just so happened to be the University at Buffalo.

I landed in Australia and Buffalo quickly became an afterthought. Shortly thereafter, 9/11 happened and my family and I decided it was best to extend my visa and my stay. I graduated high school there and, in doing so, missed most college application deadlines.

After traveling around the globe, working odd jobs to pay bills (on a related note, shearing sheep is quite difficult) and traveling thousands of miles around Australia, Buffalo, it would seem, would be my new home.

It was time to embrace Plan B.

I arrived here in the fall of 2002, an 18-year-old fully intent on transferring; perhaps to somewhere closer to home or somewhere on the coast. Buffalo, after all, had a reputation for absurd snowfall, Super Bowl losses and economic depression for the last quarter century. At a minimum, it was clear that the city had a moderate self-esteem issue.

So why did I choose to stay? Three things: The people. The lake. The community.

After I arrived, I made tremendous friends, was embraced by the Western New York community and found a much-needed connection to nature on Lake Erie. I started to love my new home.

So I stayed. I put myself through the undergraduate program at UB, UB Law School and then found the career opportunity I was looking for. I started a business, got married and found a home – all in Buffalo.

Over the last six years, Buffalo has experienced a drastic turnaround downtown, on the waterfront and in many of our neighborhoods. The city has seen unprecedented economic regeneration and investment, and has become a Buffalo that now holds its head high. Ultimately, I realized the positive difference one can make in this community and the personal and professional satisfaction that can bring.

Buffalo offers the opportunity for impactful community stewardship, the ability to make a career, to start a business, to make mistakes, to fail and try again, to raise a family, to afford a home – and to enjoy a quality of life that would be but a dream in most other cities.

Buffalo may still have a long way to go, but each of us can play a crucial role in that progress. And while we are at it, we can enjoy summers on Lake Erie, a rich history, world-class arts, delicious food, diverse cultures, the snow (yes, even the snow) and hopefully, before too long, a Bills team in the playoffs.

That’s why I chose Buffalo. That’s why I chose plan B.