Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. –Neil Gaiman
When people told me how fast my four years in college would go, I didn’t not believe them–but I didn’t understand them, either.
I was lucky. I visited UNCW in high school, toured campus, fell in love. Something in me knew, viscerally, that this place was home. That part was true. But I thought I knew who I was and who I wanted to be–and that part wasn’t true.
The past four years have proven me wrong over and over. I know less about myself now, a month from graduation, than I did as an eighteen-year-old moving into Honors House. And that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have it all figured out by the age of twenty-two (or twenty-five… or thirty).
I do know that UNCW is more than just my alma mater–it’s part of who I am. Here, I found friendships with roots running deep. I felt challenged, academically and emotionally. When I failed, people caught me and helped me get back up. When I soared, people celebrated with me. I have fallen in and out of love, had crises of faith and identity, given up on my dreams and begun to find new ones–all of it knowing that when I felt overwhelmed, I could take a deep breath, smell the flowers or look up at the clocktower, and feel that same almost-surreal sense of belonging I have always felt in this place.
There are many, many things I wish I had known to come into this experience and growing in it. Here are a few of them.
- When you get ready to leave UNCW (or college in general), you will not wish you had more awards, joined more honor societies, planned more events, or taken on more projects. You will wish you had spent less time on meaningless resume-boosters and more time watching the sunrise with the people who mean the most to you, and more time doing things you love.
- “No” is not a dirty word, and people will not hate you for saying it. In fact, most folks will respect you more for saying “no” to a project, event, or club instead of agreeing to do it and doing it halfheartedly. It’s better to do fewer things well than many things mediocrely. And when you need to take time for yourself, always do it. Thinking that you’re a necessary part of an organization or project is usually just a function of your ego: the planet will keep spinning if you take a day off.
- You don’t have to be the person your past self wanted you to be. Dreams and ambitions change. Don’t cling to something that doesn’t fit you anymore just because it’s familiar. The dream job, the significant other, the hobby that doesn’t make you happy anymore, the toxic friendship… if it restricts you now instead of freeing you, it’s time to let it go.
- An experience that teaches you what you do not want is just as valuable as the one that teaches you what you do want.
- Cynicism is for the miserable. Love what (and who) you love unabashedly, including and especially yourself.
The time we spend at college is formative and important–but it’s the beginning, not the end. This is what I’m beginning to realize as I’m planning my own exit into what we call “the real world.”