Teenagers walk on a fine line of no longer being children and not yet being adults, and being an early college student simultaneously shields and exemplifies this awkward transition. While you’re living this double life, this fantasy, everything seems so tangible. You can live in this secret world where no one knows you’re not yet old enough to drink, but you’re advanced enough to take junior level classes. No one has to know you wake up early on Saturdays to watch cartoons or that you have some menial assignment due for one of your high school classes the following day. You can be as elusive and inconspicuous as you wish to be as you try to fit in this seemingly unnatural setting, but eventually you’ll be found out.
You balance being a high schooler and college student with much stress. Scholarships, exams, projects, deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. The sweat forms on your forehead in small beads. Your heart pounds. Your head pounds. Everything pounds. There’s always something to do. Your long needed break seems so far away. Your nights are long and yet too short. Your mornings come and go like dust, and what sanity you have left flickers like a dying candle. And yet, with all this riding on you, you’re content.
Some classmates make a face like they’re constipated, one of sheer disbelief when you tell them your actual age. In the beginning they’re so shocked, but they get to know you and they realize your age is more apparent than they think. It’s strange hanging out with someone four or five years older than you, but at the same time, it provides much needed perspective.
The kinds of people you meet are endless. The one who’s always eating Poptarts, the standup comedian, the purple sweater, the one who asks if you like his new haircut. There will be random people you talk to on the elevator or in the library. The friends you make can be your rock, your support system, and can kick some sense into you when it is needed more than air. You’ll have inside jokes with strangers and share burritos when you’re sleepy and tired and hungry—why are you always hungry?—and there are moments when you question the universe why it took so long for you to meet certain people like they should have been there all along.
Sometimes college knocks you down and expects you to get back up on your own while it constantly yells at you for not being what everyone expects you to be. Sometimes you don’t get the grade you want. Some days, everything seems to go wrong. You don’t have the right book, you left your calculator at home, your phone goes off at the worst possible time. The crack that forms in your armor is not something to fret over, but rather something to be assessed in the type of manner that is formed only by attending college. What hurts the most is realizing you’re just another student, like everyone else. You don’t stand out above the rest, not as much as you think you do. Your teachers probably won’t remember you a year from now. You’ll remember them, though; the jokes, the jazz-hands, that elevator ride.
My teacher always said, “When in doubt, use the general rule of multiplication.” I thought I knew what that meant like I could find a way to apply it to life and not just statistics, but I was wrong. Maybe the trick is to not be in doubt. Most of what he said was composed of trick questions and rhetorical statements, so maybe we were supposed to read between the lines. Or maybe he just meant for it to be applied to our exam and I’m completely interpreting it wrong.
You’re not always going to be the best student, the top of your class, or the one everyone goes to for help. You will learn to be okay with that. Who you are and who people want you to be may continue to be two separate entities, and you will learn to be okay with that too. Or maybe one day they’ll morph into one person, but for now, who knows? Throughout your days, you might have always made A’s and B’s in school, so when you receive a C in accounting class, you’ll be completely distraught. But remember that you tried your hardest, and you will learn to accept what is.
My first semester was what one could describe as a ‘wild ride.’ It had its up and downs—mostly ups—and I didn’t expect it to impact me the way it did, and that’s the thing about college or anything new you have to do in your life; it’ll impact you in a completely different way than you expect. You’ll learn, you’ll lose, you’ll love. A reality check can come in different forms, and I was not expecting mine. It hits you like a brick falling from the sky. You could be walking innocently down some path, and suddenly, reality will fall flat on your head. You’ll stumble; you’ll fall, but don’t fret, because you will get back up. You always will.
Your last day of classes will be anticlimactic. Mine was. I guess I expected some big blowout, maybe a few tears. Instead, I got relief. Relief of not having anymore deadlines or exams. Relief of not having to wake up early. For the first time in a long time, I could relax. As I write that word—relief‚it still sounds a bit foreign. After months of hard work, relaxation didn’t seem possible. I took a total of seven classes this semester; and it was one of the hardest semesters I’ve ever endured, but it was rewarding.
As I sat in my economics classroom—the one that was so unfamiliar a few months earlier—on the last day of classes, the teacher was giving his final lecture, trying to end the semester with a bang. I felt my face swell with sadness, and I thought to myself; that’s the real difference, the obvious unequal quality between everyone else and me: our mentalities. They seem ready for the future. They can’t wait to have to time to go have fun, party, stay up all night, and I’m still lingering in the past. I think that barrier is broken once you graduate high school; the future becomes less scary. You’re exposed to the real world, and it’s just like everyone described it as, but it’s also… magnificent. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, and that’s something I now look forward to.