Edit desk: Two perspectives for understanding college

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The summer going into ninth grade, I made a vow to myself: I was going to work as hard as I could in high school so I could be accepted and have the financial aid to go to whichever school I decided was the one for me.

Kerry Mallett, B&W staff

Kerry Mallett, B&W staff

I was fed up with life in my small town — my nerdy, goody-two-shoes self never quite fit in, and I was determined to find a college where I could have a social life and fit in with students that were also dedicated to their schoolwork and passionate about what they were doing.

Getting there took 18 college tours, a dozen extracurriculars, 10 college applications, and too many weekday and weekend nights doing homework past midnight — but on March 30, 2011, I made the fateful decision that I had so long looked forward to — I would be attending Lehigh University.

Four years later, on the precipice of graduation, I am having so much trouble about letting go because for so long, college was my end point. It was the be all and end all. I still considered life after college, sometimes — my ideas ranged from being first female president of the United States (that was at age four) to a writer, museum curator, lawyer, and journalist, but after a year or two, each idea was discarded, after discovering in turn that I wasn’t cut out for each career.

Some people dream of the day they become a surgeon, or get elected to office, or make a lot of money on Wall Street.

Instead, in high school, I dreamed of walking across quads in sweaters while admiring fall foliage, of studying art history in a beautiful old library while snow fell outside, of debating politics in class. I dreamed of meeting cute boys who you could study with, and of finding a boyfriend. I dreamed of football games in the fall, of drinking beer at a toga party, of serving on student government, and of hanging out with sorority sisters.

With this, when I stepped onto campus in August 2011, with Abercrombie shorts, new Sperrys, and a whole lot of naiveté, I fully embraced college life.

Within the first few weeks, I was interviewing sports players for articles for The Brown and White and heading to the Poconos for a weekend retreat for Student Senate. From Make and Take to theme parties and interesting lectures and Lehigh-Lafayette week, I charged into college life with a bull-headed passion.

Some of my decisions freshman year make me laugh or cringe at my naiveté. Tottering to my first Senate meeting in too-tall heels? My roommate and I walking under an umbrella to our first party, where I didn’t know how to work the keg? Leaving my first class of Calculus 21 with my head spinning because I didn’t understand a thing that was said? Looking back, I was so in over my head that it was almost pathetic, but I was so in love with college life and Lehigh that I never noticed.

And then, second semester, I joined Alpha Gamma Delta. At the time, I was ecstatic and relieved to find a chapter where the sisters were well rounded and down-to-earth, and I felt like I could truly be myself. Put simply, they have changed my life and made me a better person.

All of this is not to say that everything was perfect — not by far. Second semester freshman year, I made some decisions that almost jeopardized my future at Lehigh. Then there was junior year.

The 2013-2014 school year was a difficult one for the entire Lehigh community. After trying to make sense of what happened, I came to a sad realization. I was claiming to be a campus leader who worked to improve campus, yet I had not seen the deep-rooted and critical issues of marginalization that existed. How could I love a place that made so many of my fellow students feel so unwanted and unsafe?

On a personal level, junior year was particularly trying for a lot of reasons. I became disillusioned because not only was I questioning whether Lehigh was the place I thought it was, but I questioned whether I was the person I thought I was.

Besides the personal growth I had junior year, the one silver lining was that I finally figured out what I was meant to do as a career: student affairs, particularly with Greek life.

It came as easily — and as hard — as knowing myself. I had always been passionate about my extracurriculars, and loved going to leadership workshops and conferences.

I had always been the type of person to follow my passions and heart — however unrealistic or impractical that might be. When I was able to figure out that my experiences at Lehigh, particularly my leadership positions in Alpha Gam and Student Senate, could set me up for a career in Student Affairs, it finally came together — I had figured out what the rest of my life would hold.

Now I just needed to find an entry-level job. I had seen Alpha Gam Leadership Consultants in action from national conferences and visits to our chapter, and made up my stubborn, stubborn mind that I needed to be one.

In the meantime, I was able to have an incredible senior year. I was able to fulfill my dreams of speaking in front of the first-year class as Senate president and receiving a walking stick at Founders Day. I was able to be a mentor in my chapter. I spent lots of time in the pressroom with some incredible and goofy people, bringing the Lehigh community “all the Lehigh news first.”

I applied to two jobs — the second of which was the Alpha Gamma Delta Leadership Consultant position — and got both, miraculously.

But yet, even with knowing the excitement, adventures and fulfillment awaiting me starting on June 16, I am shaken to the core by the thought of leaving Lehigh.

There are too many things — particularly people — to miss.

I will miss the way the inner door of Coppee opens slightly in the frame when you open the outer door and the familiar scent of the Alpha Gam chapter house. I will miss reading on the front lawn on a spring morning in an Adirondack chair with an iced coffee and when the bells start ringing. I will miss the nervous energy the campus has during move-in, and Thursdays at MacGrady’s, when I can talk to so many of my friends under one roof.

Every Wednesday and Sunday, I will miss press night at The Brown and White, and every Tuesday at 4, I will miss Senate.

Every day, I will miss the incredible people in these organizations and in my chapter of Alpha Gam, plus countless others who have been important these last four years, and can never truly tell them how much they have meant to me and touched my life.

But, I am trying to stay optimistic and keep remembering all of the experiences I have had while attending Lehigh.

I picnicked under the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day, cheered on the Tour de France from the front row of the crowd and saw the world’s masterpieces in the Louvre. I drank wine in front of the Trevi Fountain at night and toured Buckingham Palace. I found my way onto the roofs of three campus buildings. I discussed the state of journalism with renowned journalists Marty Baron and Seymour Hirsch. I ran around campus live-tweeting breaking news or trying out Google Glass when it was still in beta.

There are two perspectives with which to look at college — as a way to prepare yourself for a career or as an experience unto itself. For far too long, I thought of it only in terms of the latter, but along the way, I was able to figure out the former.

I am a smarter, stronger and happier person than the one who stepped on campus four years ago, filled with anxious excitement.

The next few weeks will be filled with lots of lasts and some regrets about decisions made or things I didn’t do. But I have been able to both prepare myself for a career that I will love and had a once-in-a-lifetime undergraduate experience, and for that, I am so lucky and grateful.

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