Even though classes don’t begin until Monday, three days ago I packed my bags and moved in for my last semester of college. The first-year students at my university will arrive in two days, and in the meantime, about 50 other upperclassmen leaders and I are training to be their orientation leaders.
This is my third year working as an orientation leader and I love it for one main reason: I get to interact with and welcome new and energetic faces. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with bright individuals who have then been on my sport’s team, in my classes, and by my side as the year progressed.
I decided I would make this week’s post an ode to not only the incoming class at my school, but at all universities across the nation (even though for some of you, I may be a bit late). While it would be easy for me to fall into the “simple list of obvious tips” formula, I’m going to just try to talk to you, as a leader, friend, and college senior.
My own college journey began a little differently than most. Sunday, one week to the date before I was due to move in, I went to Kennywood, a Pittsburgh amusement park, with some friends. After hours of thrill rides and rollercoasters, I was starting to feel a little under the weather. I hadn’t been to an amusement park in years. Maybe I was just getting too old for such head jerking entertainment. At least that’s what I thought. I knew that it would pass by the next day. It had to. I still had so much I wanted to accomplish before I left for college.
Monday and Tuesday came and went and I was still barely moving. Finally, on Wednesday night, we took my temperature. It was through the roof. This led me to a late night MedExpress run and later to the E.R. where I was admitted. After a not-so-fun visit there, I was released on Friday night, where I promptly returned to my own bed and fell asleep.
Saturday morning, one day before I moved into college, I woke up, still weak, but with a renewed sense of purpose. I finished my summer reading book and wrote my essay. I packed up my things and ordered my textbooks. I looked into my schedule and ate one last family dinner. It was almost game time.
I moved in on Sunday and, based on an allergic reaction to the medicine they had placed me on, had to leave school only a few hours later. I ended up staying home until I was cleared by my doctor and missed the first few days of cross country camp. To put it short: I was a mess.
I promise, your move-in will go smoother than that.
I remember driving home from Sunday, away from my newly set-up room and wondering if I was supposed to just throw in the towel. My over dramatic mind had already jumped to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to go to school that semester.
Of course, that was wrong and, looking back on it now, it only seems like my unconventional start to college is just a really quirky story. I started my freshman year and now, in a few days with all my new classmates by my side, I will start my senior year.
But. This blog wasn’t meant to be about me or my introduction to a new place. This is for you and about your courage to plunge into the unknown.
No matter how you look at it, college is an unknown. Maybe your older brother went to the same school and you already know a few people. It’s still unknown. Maybe you visited your cousin at her university all the time last year and feel like you’re ready for college. It’s still unknown. Maybe you’re commuting so you’ll hardly ever be on campus. It’s still unknown.
And for that reason, you are brave. And for that reason, you will be rewarded, because those who step out on a limb to pursue something they love are the ones the universe shines down upon.
Going to college is a series of firsts for many people. It may be the first time you’re away from home or the first time you have to share a bedroom or a bathroom. It may be the first time you feel you have complete freedom over who you hang out with or what you wear. There’s nobody telling you how to spend your Saturday. What are you going to do with that?
One trap that I found myself falling into is the notion of a “college experience.” So many times in the media, college is portrayed as a rule-breaking, hell-raising, party-seeking kind of time. And you know, maybe to some degree that is okay. But to expect that every single person you meet on move-in day is going to have the same expectations for the next four years is ludicrous.
Don’t feel like you have to do something just because the first person you met does. You don’t have to pretend to be interested in things that don’t appeal to you. All you have to do is be yourself.
I know, that’s possibly the most clichéd and awful advice to ever hear. It’s incredibly easy to say, “be yourself” but nearly impossible to live out the mantra. Luckily, college isn’t necessarily built for you to be yourself—it exists so you can discover yourself.
You will, in your first ten minutes of arriving to campus, be introduced to people who you may have never befriended in high school. So you fell into a certain clique? Now’s the time to forget any preconceived notions about someone. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. It’s okay to let down your guard.
It’s okay to be afraid. We’ve all been there. It’s a lot of brand-new experiences packed into every single minute. But that’s why schools have orientation programs. That’s why upperclassman student leaders are identified. That’s why you have a residence assistant on your hallway and an academic advisor for your classes.
You’ll meet a lot of people on move-in day. And believe me when I say that every single one of them is genuinely going to want you to succeed. I want you to want it as much.
This upcoming year for you will be full of obstacles and triumphs and first time moments—the first football game, first picture with the mascot, first free t-shirt, first class, first exam… and those are the moments that you’ll look back on as a senior and think, “how did I go from my first day of college to my last first day ever?”
Take lots of pictures. Those are memories you’ll look back on as you laugh at how much younger you look, reminisce on that friend that transferred, and smile at how your relationships with your friends have grown.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. By scheduling your classes and sending in your application, you already did. You took the leap of faith. And now you’ve got four years to learn how to fly.
And if there’s any last wisdom I have for an overarching college career it is this simple truth: You will love your school. But you will also hate it. And that’s okay. Like anything else in this world, nothing is perfect. Maybe you and your roommate don’t get along. One year from now, you can go your own ways. Maybe you really dislike your schedule. That too, will pass. So what if your bed isn’t as comfortable as you hoped for?
College never promised to be perfect. Or easy. Or like a movie.
It’s a challenge.
But it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences that you will ever go through. Because every 3 am study session is bringing you closer to your goals. And every 4 am heart-to-heart is bringing you human connection. And I promise you the latter are the ones that you are going to remember.
So, when you’re asked your name and an interesting fact for the 8th time in the same morning, smile and give us your story. Because believe it or not, even orientation can become a really fun “remember when” to reflect on when you’re a few months away from your own graduation in four years.
Best of luck to all the college freshmen beginning classes this week and next. May the next four years provide you with opportunity, achievement, laughter, memories, and most importantly, happiness.