One of the most daunting things about graduating is the realization that, after spending basically all of your adult years in a structured, institutional setting, you are suddenly given license to enter the world and become who you’re supposed to be.
Many of us have concrete plans for where we will be between 9 and 5, five days a week for the indefinite future. But what might be harder to figure out is who we will be once we get there.
As students, we don’t always think about our future adult lives because it is so easy to get swept up in all of the excitement and stress of college. And rightfully so — you should be living in the moment, taking in all of the euphoria, angst and emotional turmoil associated with this exploratory stage of your life.
But it’s also worth pausing to reflect on how individual moments figure into the rest of your life — how you got to that point and where you’ll go from there.
Like my fellow student journalists, I spent the majority of my four years at Lehigh capturing campus history in the making. By reporting on events and initiatives, controversies and victories, I have contributed to keeping a record of Lehigh’s progress.
It can be hard, though, to remember to keep stock of our own personal growth and evolution, from the time we say goodbye to our parents at orientation to the time we walk across the stage. Between all the class material we absorb and the responsibilities and relationships we juggle on a daily basis, keeping track of the ways we’re personally evolving usually isn’t a top priority.
Often, it’s only when we reach milestones like graduation that we allow ourselves to look back and recognize the incongruities between who we were then and who we are now. We realize how far we’ve come.
Most of us leave college in a significantly different head space compared to when we first arrive. Ideally, we’re more intelligent, confident and open-minded. I certainly see many of these changes in myself, even though I often struggle to pinpoint exactly what is different and why.
As someone with a relatively bad memory, I often rely on written or visual reminders. At times, I regret not taking more time to put my thoughts to paper — for not properly reflecting and giving myself something more concrete to look back on.
I do have glimpses into my past self — sporadic journal entries, occasional social media posts and abundant cell phone photos. Even looking back at my edit desks through the years, I am able to peer into the mindset of the Klaudia I was when I wrote them, and think about how much I’ve grown.
But often throughout college, I was so preoccupied with academic pursuits and personal matters that it seemed like months passed before I had an opportunity to stop and truly think about what it all meant to me.
College years really do fly by, and during that time we experience moments that shape us both consciously and subconsciously. Once you’re removed from a situation, it can be very easy to forget how you truly felt and disregard something that once occupied so much of your thoughts and energy.
After I returned from my semester abroad, I took the summer to reevaluate my priorities — in what, in some ways, was a heart-wrenching process — and entered my senior year with a renewed sense of purpose.
I applied to grad school in a foreign country. I left a campus organization that no longer felt fulfilling. And, though I had previously been unsure about my future with The Brown and White, I took another crack at being an editor.
Your experiences now are valid and important because they’re shaping who you are and who you’ll become. It’s important to allow yourself to reevaluate and change course if need be.
As a departing senior and outgoing editor in chief, I feel a sense of responsibility to impart some of the wisdom I’ve gained throughout my time at Lehigh. While I am not in a place yet where I am ready to start handing out life advice, I will happily settle for food for thought.
So here’s what I’ve got: take the time to remember.
Do it for your present self, your past and future selves.
Too often our lives move at such a fast pace and we change without realizing. It can be valuable to let yourself steep in a moment, in a thought process, in an emotion.
College is a selfish time, when so much of what we do is for the purpose of our own enlightenment.
After we leave Lehigh, we are expected to take what we have learned and use it for the betterment of the world. Knowing yourself makes that process a lot easier.
Taking stock of your experiences can be a powerful way of staying present. Taking the time to think meaningfully about what is happening and what you are doing can help you have a better, more deliberate relationship with yourself and the world around you.
Whoever you are — whether you’re a graduating senior, a rising undergraduate or a full-fledged adult in the “real world” — I doubt you’ll ever regret taking the time to capture a feeling.
Klaudia Jaźwińska, ’18, is the editor in chief of The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].