What I Actually Learned In College

Graduation is less than two weeks away and I wanted to make sure I took the time to reflect on these past four years before I get too busy with final projects and exams. Of course, we all know that by “final projects and exams” I actually mean “playing ‘22’ nonstop, going out every night, turning down for nothing, and living up the last few days before my friends and I are thrust into the real world and the title ‘alcoholic’ is quickly bestowed upon us.” As cliché as it sounds, it really is unbelievable how fast my college years have seemed to fly by. It seems like just yesterday I was playing Spin the Phone (a game that I invented where a group of people who just met would spin my stylish flip phone around on a table and have to answer questions should the antenna point at them when the spinning stops) at freshman orientation with some of my soon-to-be best friends, walking around the involvement fair and thanking God I wasn’t in high school anymore, taking my first college test, running from the safety and security van at night while double fisting Four Lokos, and spending semesters gallivanting around Europe and Washington, D.C. I like to think that my undergraduate experience was everything it should be. After all, I was relatively involved on campus and acted in several plays, had internships at the World Health Organization and United States Senate, and am graduating summa cum laude. I’m certainly proud of these accomplishments, but my academic record and resume are not the biggest takeaways for me from this chapter in my life. The lessons I’m going to remember don’t include calculus, history, or science, but they do involve the people I met – from my classmates and professors to the co-star of my fabulous, two week Lizzie McGuire love story in France; they involve how I learned to accept myself, how I embraced change, and what it means to really be happy.

Over the past few years, I learned the importance of being 100% myself and embracing every characteristic, every flaw, and every hair on my Hungarian legs. When Desperate Housewives was on TV years ago, I remember all the boys in my class talked about how hot Eva Longoria was. So, when my mom and I would watch the show on Sunday nights, I tried to pay close attention to the scenes she was in so I could contribute to the conversation on Monday with the boys. Well, it turns out I was way more into the gardener Eva was having an affair with than I was into her. I remained in denial about my sexuality all throughout high school. Once a teacher made everybody say who they thought was a hot celebrity in front of the whole class and, unable to think of anybody else, I just said “Um…Taylor Swift.” Going to a Catholic school where kids are taught in theology class that “homosexuality is a sin and an unfortunate handicap” doesn’t exactly make for the most tolerant environment. When I first came to my university, I was amazed at the diversity that existed and how nobody made fun of gay people but instead seemed like they wanted to be best friends with them. I quickly became more comfortable in expressing myself truly. Maybe I’m just fortunate to have a fabulous, liberal family and friend group or maybe they were just glad to see me open up and be happy, but I was met with love and support by most. Ultimately I realized that those who didn’t love me for me and tried to change me or pray away the gay were only bringing me down, and they have been escorted out of my life. I continue to be a huge proponent in inspiring people to simply be themselves because after I accepted myself and started being who God made me, my friends and my happiness actually increased exponentially. I think even the gay community has something to learn about being true to oneself. For instance, when I was in Washington, D.C. just last semester, a grown adult said I was a “bad gay” because I’m not particularly entertained by drag shows, my legs are incredibly hairy, and I don’t wear short shorts every second of every hot summer day. I am extremely against this judgmental trend that I have seen frequently within the LGBT community because I already spent too much of my life conforming to how people thought I should act. From college on, I know I’m going to be true to myself in every aspect.

Of course, there is so much more to me than just being gay. I’m a traveler; I’m a party boy; I’m a scholar; I’m an actor; I’m a writer; I’m a manny. I like to go on long runs, watch trashy TV, and sing Shania Twain in the shower. I changed my academic major four times because I wanted to be on Broadway, be a pediatrician, and be the next Donald Trump. It seems I have too many interests for my own good – and all the BuzzFeed quizzes I take on the daily tell me the same thing. (My result to a quiz determining what Pokemon I am: “You got Eevee! You have incredible potential — you might not have figured out exactly who you are just yet, and can sometimes feel paralyzed by the sheer volume of choices ahead of you, but one day soon you’ll pick and you’ll be great.) Throughout college, I’ve been told that I need to decide on a path and that I cannot do everything. My academic advisor has told me this and so have my mom, friends, and other people very close to me. Maybe it’s my blind optimism talking, but I have to humbly disagree. During my sophomore year, I received a grant to pursue a project that I designed myself where I took a group of doctors through a series of theatre exercises to better their bedside manners and make adults and children feel more at ease as patients. I know that is just one project, but I was able to combine my passions for theatre, medicine, children, people in general, and writing – all of which are incredibly important to me. Even though I am graduating soon, I still don’t know what I want to do in the long run. However, I know that I can find something that incorporates many of my interests, whether that is a study abroad advisor, the next Patch Adams, or a public health expert. Even with a serious case of senioritis right now, I’m confident I will be back in school in a couple years so I can work even more toward making the best change for the world. I know I will not be in a cubicle in twenty years, that’s for sure. I’ve realized throughout college that it is so important to go where my heart is telling me to go, even if logic points the other way. 

After working in an office my junior year and feeling unfilled with the work I was doing, I knew I needed to go travel and do something meaningful with my summer. I had met Au Pairs in Switzerland when I spent a semester there and they encouraged me to create an account on an online Au Pair agency. What else could be more fulfilling then traveling, experiencing foreign culture, and taking care of and inspiring children? Relatively quickly I found a family near Gstaad, Switzerland and before I knew it, I was on a transatlantic flight back to the country that originally stole my heart. Well, the family ended up being completely awful, wouldn’t let me look at my iPhone (my lifeline) throughout the day, and made me take the toddlers outside to play in the rain and the snow – because it snowed there on the last day of May. I was working way more than we had agreed to and the kids were too young to carry out any conversation. I remember making a comment that it would have been more effective if Victor Hugo entitled his famous novel “Au Pair” instead of “Les Miserables.” I would go visit my friends in Geneva every opportunity I had and I got way too drunk for the wrong reasons every single time. It was an all-around unhealthy experience and I knew I had to return home and to the office life. While spending the next semester in Washington, D.C. behind a computer all day, forcing smiles and trying to act like I was passionate about the work, I received an e-mail from that online Au Pair agency that I forgot to cancel my account with. The message was from a different Swiss family who was interested in having me come over for the holiday season. I initially shuttered at the thought as the bad memories consumed my mind again, but something in my heart told me to simply talk with the family. About a month later, I was back on a transatlantic flight to Switzerland – Gstaad of all places. Even to this day, I sometimes cannot believe I got on that flight and put myself back in that place. Yes, the family was different and the kids were older and seemed fun, but I genuinely thought Gstaad, Madonna’s holiday destination, was hell on Earth last June – why would I go back six months later? The only answer I really have is because my heart told me go there. Sitting behind that computer screen at the Senate, I knew there was something I needed to find in Gstaad. I was hoping that would be a rich man with personal connections to Madonna, but it ended up being another part of myself. I flew back to the United States a month later (after nearly missing my flight because I was clubbing with an old friend in Florence that entire night and fell into a deep sleep at the airport gate) agreeing with something a Swiss man told me: Gstaad is the closest thing to heaven on Earth. I still laugh about the experience I had there this past winter, the new friends I met, and the hilarious things the boys I watched would do. It was very scary for me to follow my heart to Europe that time, but I’m glad I did because I found the heaven in hell. 

Clearly, I’ve put myself into some crazy situations. My experiences in Gstaad only skim the surface about the events in my life that I could write about. I’m seriously considering writing a book and entitling it “Today, Taco Bell; Tomorrow, the World” because I cannot even count how many times I’ve been told “Charlie, your life is unreal.” I was a personal assistant for two days for one of the Real Housewives of New York City, I was an Abercrombie model for a day, I worked at a doggy day care and a fast food restaurant, and I was one of those annoying guys who went door to door getting people to sign some petition. I was also one of those annoying guys who called up alumni of my university to get them to donate money. I recently conducted wine tastings until I got fired for accidentally violating Ohio liquor laws when serving my customers too much. Those are just some of the stories that I have within the past few years. From all of my ridiculous experiences, I’ve realized that I really am not afraid of trying new things. I think it is so important to explore all of the different opportunities life has to offer. Not only that, but I realized through my college years that it is so important to laugh at oneself. At first I was upset about losing my wine tasting job, but my friends and family could not stop laughing when I told them, and I quickly found the humor in the situation. When I first started to learn how to drive stick shift a few weeks ago so I can go back to Europe to be Manny Poppins, I got pulled over because the cop thought I was genuinely driving drunk after I stalled out. Even though I told him I was just learning how to drive with manual transmission, I still had to recite the alphabet. I could have gotten frustrated with myself, but I just laughed it off, kept driving, and within a few days I was handling rush hour traffic with ease in that car. One time I brought soup to somebody I was casual dating for about a week when he got sick, and then I was offended when we stopped talking shortly after. It took one of my housemates to explain to me how ridiculous I was. Another time I went on a first date after having about ten too many drinks with my friends and wondered why I never heard from that guy again. Too many people are too serious about life. Of course, there are times to be serious, but more often than not, there are times to laugh at ourselves and the mistakes we make. Maybe this sounds shallow, but I learned from college that life needs fun for the ultimate balance.

Just the other day, my grandma asked me, “Charlie, how are you graduating with highest honors and yet you were able to party so hard?” Honestly, I think that because I partied so much, I was able to work and study to the extent that I did. I’ve learned that life is all about balance and I’m a firm believer in the “work hard, party hard” mantra. When I first came to college, I actually rarely drank. Two Bud Lights made me drunk and I would rather just stay in and watch Disney movies. The more I discovered myself throughout these past four years, the more I realized I love to go out and have a good time. It actually energizes me (see: definition of extrovert) and I get more work done, instead of putting it off for days. I realize not everybody is as extroverted as I am and that other people need a different type of balance system than I do, but I found a stable balance for myself. One of my friends who I go out with frequently told me somebody saw our Facebook pictures and condescendingly asked, “Do you two do anything else besides drink and go out?” I know there are other people who think that, and I’m just not going to go to them and show off my resume or the pictures I have of myself around the world. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout college is that I cannot waste my time on people who give off negative energy or criticize others without reason.

Coming into college, quantity was everything. I wanted to have the most Facebook friends on campus and run into somebody I knew every five seconds when walking to classes. I stretched myself way too thin and tried to get my hands on every service project and in every club. At one point, I joined a campus organization for about thirty minutes that focused on reducing underage drinking. Um, okay. After I realized how exhausting it was to be part of organizations I really was not passionate about and how silly it was to take time away from the ones that count to try to sustain “friendships” that were toxic, I quickly changed my mind about quantity being important. As I prepare to walk across the stage soon and get my diploma, I can honestly say I am active with about 10% of the activities that I was originally involved with and good friends with about 10% of the people I would have considered “good friends” my freshman year. I could not be happier; life is definitely about quality, not quantity.

I am so thankful for that percentage of people though – those friends, professors, and family members – who supported and encouraged me to make the most of my college years, take risks, never stop being who I am, and continue to discover myself. I’m not afraid of the unknown anymore because college showed me that the journey is the fun part of life. I don’t know where my heart will take me in the long run, but I know where it’s taking me right after graduation, so all I can do is follow it, maintain my balance, and continue figuring out how I can incorporate all of my passions into my life… and also hope I don’t get pulled over by a cop for “drunk driving” in Switzerland because I forget how to say the alphabet in German. TC mark

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