Countdown to graduation: 2.5 months. It seems like just yesterday I attended my first day of college classes, nervously walking out the door with a lanyard around my neck and a campus map shoved into my back pocket…yikes.
In light of the curtains closing on my undergraduate years, I’ve lately reflected on how this very important part of my life has left me with a stronger head, a little more wisdom, and A LOT more reasons to smile. It’s difficult to grasp the fact that just four years ago I hung my Kid Cudi poster up on the cinder block walls and spread my twin XL comforter across my lofted bed.
Back then was a time when “Thirsty Thursday” was a concept unheard of and lectures were only spoken by my dad when high school got me into trouble. As much as I’d love to be a shiny new college freshman, I wouldn’t dream of giving up the growth I’ve achieved since I began this rocky adventure. Although I couldn’t possibly quantify every lesson I’ve learned since August 2011, below are the experiences that taught me things I’ll carry far past my college days:
1. Four years was NOT enough time to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life
Consider this: We’re supposed to start working in the real world when we’re 22 and think about stopping at the age of 65. But somewhere between the ages of 17 and 20, we’re expected to declare a career path that we must dedicate our lives to for the next 45 years.
I started my freshman year off as a Business major, switched it to Psychology, swapped that for Allied Health Sciences and now I’ll be graduating with a degree in Communication and Journalism. Life will almost never play out the way you originally planned and bumps in the road can turn into mountains ranges. I changed my mind more than I changed my clothes and I changed my mind again. But what I found when I took the time to put my talents, hobbies and passions into perspective was that slow and steady really does win the race. There’s no pause button on life and sometimes it’ll feel like everything around you is on fast forward. Take a step back, slow your roll and go from there. No one has ever achieved great things in a hurry.
2. Skipping class on occasion was 100 percent OK
I met the kids who refused to miss a fifty-minute lecture and I got to know the ones who only showed up on exam days. For me, it was a balance between the two extremes. Somewhere along the way, I learned how to weigh my participation grade with a handful of necessary mental health days. Considering I’ll have the rest of my life to feel like I want to rip my hair out from stress, I found it acceptable to take it easy on myself while I still can. Sometimes taking a day off to breathe air that’s not polluted with geoscience or statistics can actually be the best medicine.
3. No one really cared about my GPA
Four score and too many years ago, It was a legitimate thing to brag about your high school grade point average. But nowadays, I’ve learned that the focus has shifted to one’s experience and motivation outside the lecture hall. Although I never lost motivation because of this concept, it did make me feel slightly less nauseous when I got a C in my Physiology class. No matter what, I’ve come to find that putting in your best effort doesn’t always lead to perfectly desired results. That’s just the basic nature of life: it’s rarely ever fair. As an unnatural bookworm myself, I can confidently say that stressing about the 4.0 I didn’t have was ultimately a waste of time.
4. Making mistakes ended up being my greatest accomplishment
Remember that time I ditched writing my very important persuasive essay so that I could hang out with a basketball player? To make a long story short, the grade I received directly reflected my lack of proper thinking. Nothing kicks you in the ass like realizing your grades are slipping because you’ve been partying twice as much as studying. But having learned this lesson the hard way, I was able to quickly climb out of the hole I began to dig for myself and focus on what was really important. I hated having to stay in on Saturday nights to study and decline Facebook invitations for midweek drinks. However, screwing up from the start and getting it out of my system early made it easier to think with a clear head from that point on.
5. It was all about “the little things”
For example, appreciating the occasional hot water in the girl’s bathroom of my 300-resident dormitory. I went through all four years of undergrad with no time for a job and very little money to spend. College isn’t about getting into exclusive nightclubs and drinking top shelf liquor; it’s about dancing in the middle of a dive bar and taking advantage of two-dollar Miller High Lifes. I learned to smile at the sunrise after pulling an all-nighter and I studied outside when the springtime temperature hit 50. I was able to teach myself that life is ten times better when you can make the most of what you’ve got, even if all you have is a five dollar bill to spend on bar cover.
6. The people I met will continue to have a lasting impact
I had my heart broken more times over the last four years than I probably will for the rest of my life. I fell for the wrong guys and took chances on the wrong kind of friends. But what I love most about college is that I’ll always remember the boy from sophomore year Chemistry whose smile is still ingrained in my mind. The day my best friend became the person I told my deepest, darkest secrets to will never be forgotten. I learned a lot from the positive and negative influences I surrounded myself with and will forever be thankful for the ones who stuck around. Perhaps I wore my heart on my sleeve, said the wrong things at the wrong time and made mistakes I’d rather not readdress. But looking back now that my days are numbered, what’s most important is that I found those “forever” people; the ones who will sit at my 50th birthday party and laugh at all the embarrassing things I once did in college.