goodbye to all that

Dear College Freshmen,

I've been thinking about how to describe college to you. Here's something to start: college will be the most unreal 4 years of your life, where everyone is a bundle of perpendicular lines – people pulled together only by this similar experience who then diverge forever. It is one big, weird, mosh pit. One long and unpunctuated experience of freedom and growth. A place where you take responsibility for the first time: for your successes, but also your mistakes. A place where you realize that wherever you came from and who you were in that place is not who you are now, is not who you will be.

The first thing I want to tell you is to never dilute the things you love with the expectations for what you should love. For the longest time I struggled with wanting to be ‘taken seriously’ by adopting ‘serious hobbies’ that proved some type of skill or value to others. I thought writing about emotions, life, and the small joys within it would make me seem weak, less capable, too sensitive. Through college, I realized that one's individual joys do not have to be explainable to anyone else. In my case, I realized it was a blessing to love writing purely for the way it makes me feel. Through writing, I pay closer attention to the world and can find subtle wonders even in the most mundane days. Look, if there is something that pulls you, stop yanking yourself away. Lean into it, because the experience of being open-hearted fundamentally changes you. It makes you receptive, kind, passionate. When you do what you love, you see the world as a warmer, more luminous place.

One of my favorite quotes is: "Every new sensation is a blessing, every anxious thought is a theft." (Havrilesky) Please remember that most things in college are blessings (even if they don't feel like it). The long afternoons running down the river trail, heart thudding. Keeping your dorm room door unlocked and people streaming in until midnight talking about everything and getting late-night Korean food and using a cardboard Amazon box as a makeshift table. Sun-warmed weekends by the farmers market, hefty loaf of fresh warm bread in arm. Every place has endings and beginnings. These are the places I've been, but the places you will be too. I think that's the beautiful part about college: that some aspects about your life can be broadly experienced by many, but so intimately specific when you live within it.

On independence, aloneness, and selfhood:

People in your life will come and go. And it hurts sometimes because it's human nature to hold onto things, make them fit into a world that they've outgrown, or maybe a world you've already left behind. I think of it like this: someone meets you in a moment of your life, and you meet them for a moment in theirs. It doesn't have to last forever. It just has to teach you something.

You'll realize that Penn can feel pretty lonely. There's the loneliness you feel by not being in the presence of others, and there's the loneliness of not being heard or understood. You'll feel both of these, well at least I did, quite deeply. But you'll learn that being alone doesn't equate to being lonely. My best friend wrote this in our shared newsletter: "completeness can co-exist with solitude" and I think about that line all the time. You don't need anyone to complete you. But at the very same time, college isn't all sunshine – sometimes it'll feel like a perpetual 4am disillusioned moment where everyone is exhausted and feeling kind of crappy about themselves. Trust me, you'll make terrible mistakes and choose the wrong things to do and the wrong places to be and the wrong people to love. When these times come, you also have to learn how to lean on your friends. I know it's hard to be both independent and vulnerable, but somehow college will teach you to walk that line faster than you can imagine.

At some point you'll return to these questions that people return to across centuries: what do I want, how do I get it, will this make me happy? I don't have the answers, but here's a diagram from the blog Wait but Why instead.

Right now, your life is at that ‘Today’ line – there are so many paths available and open to you. The world branches out in a million lives and you struggle and experience love, loss, tenderness in a different way in each one of them. I love this diagram so so much because it reminds you that every day you make a choice to get closer to the version of you that you wish to be. There are no wrong paths, there are only different routes.

I've been counting the days down to graduation (hasn't everyone?), saying to my friends that it's insane we only have 2 weeks left. It reminds me of this quote by Doerr:

“I count the days because I love them too much. I count the days already knowing that one day I will remember how tactless it was of me to have counted the days when I could have so easily have enjoyed them. I count the days to pretend that losing it all doesn't phase me."

Most of the friends I know feel this in their own way. This is a nostalgic, bittersweet end. The worst bits of are over, but so are the best bits. But there is anticipation, hope, excitement for the next branches in our life.

So maybe the best thing we can do is to stop counting the days we have left. Instead, we'll hold on to the memories of the late night hours after the party has long ended and we unpile ourselves onto the streets, or the last stretch of a run where everything is aching and light, or maybe just on to the moments where we felt were exactly where we needed to be.

You are exactly where you need to be, dear freshmen. Good luck, and I'm rooting for you.

– Nicole

Published by Nicole 3 years ago on Sunday the 2nd of May 2021.

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