The first edit desk I ever wrote began with a quote that resonated with me outside of the context in which my professor meant it. I’ve always seemed to look at things from a big picture standpoint, thinking about how what I am learning, seeing and experiencing will impact what I’m doing or how I view things outside of its nuclear context.
As my seventh semester at Lehigh nears its end I realized that the day-to-day experiences that make up our time at college can often cloud our vision, and we forget the overarching reasons for why we are here and how what we are learning matters, beyond the goal of getting good grades and landing a highly-esteemed job.
Both of my parents raised me to believe that college is meant to be the best four years of your life. I grew up referring to my parents’ college friends as aunt and uncle, hearing countless stories about life on campus and all the fun and camaraderie that is to be shared throughout one’s undergraduate experience.
I arrived at Lehigh in August 2017 eager and excited for all that was to come. For the friends I would make, the things I would learn and the experiences I would generate for me to reflect on and one day pass on to my own children.
Having the opportunity to leave home and surround myself with others who think the same way I do and share similar values while continuing to learn and grow together stood on my Mount Rushmore of highest goals from such a young age. But I often forgot something important whilst going through the motions once I settled onto campus. There’s one key aspect of this experience which for many takes a backseat amid the stress and competition that exists on campus academically, socially and professionally.
What made my parents so evocative about their time in college wasn’t their individual successes, but the experiences they shared with lifelong friends and classmates.
Back to that quote business I mentioned earlier. At the beginning of this semester I stumbled across one somewhere that said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
For most of college I chose to go the former route. Spending time in cubicles on the fifth floor of FML with my headphones in trying to earn the best grades I possibly could, spending hours each day in Taylor Gym retreating to habits that reminded me of my former more athletic self and generally operating on a schedule that worked for me and me only.
I’ve had many moments throughout this collegiate experience where I was constantly focused on the next pressing thing. The next assignment, the next workout, the next meeting, the next job application, you name it. That mindset travels along the faster route.
I don’t believe that doing things to prioritize yourself and your needs is by any means bad. But when you consistently opt for the faster path, you can miss a lot of important stuff along the way.
I began to notice myself heading down an accelerating path at the end of the fall 2019 semester. I had taken on what stands to be the most challenging course load and set of responsibilities in a four-month span to date, which left me feeling downright depleted by its end.
It wasn’t until I came home after evacuating the Czech Republic this past March that I was forced to slow down and realize that if I didn’t hit the brakes soon, I’d surely crash.
In some ways, you could argue that I did.
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has worked a number on each and every one of us in a myriad of ways. For me, it shattered this completely perfect image of the fun-filled four-year fairytale I had been raised on. I had already come to realize that college is a lot harder than I was made to believe growing up, but I still held onto this idea that somehow senior year would make everything make sense and come full-circle. That there was still fun to be had and memories to be made.
I quickly turned pessimistic that any good could come out of this fall semester because nothing felt as it should since as a student population we weren’t able to behave in ways we had grown so accustomed to. I thought our “typical” Lehigh experience had been tarnished beyond a point of repair.
But what I didn’t realize was that COVID-19 had the power to unite us, forcing us to move forward together rather than alone.
I can say that without a doubt, The Brown and White Editorial Board has never been as close as it has become this semester. Through collaboration, constant communication, shared media insights and our ability to hold a similar mindset on how to navigate the world’s uncertainties, we have grown from teammates to a family. These people have instilled a confidence within me as a writer and person as well as encouraged me to reach for higher goals I never thought I was worthy of achieving. What was intended to be my final semester on staff grew into a strengthened belief that the work I do matters, and I am excited to continue using my voice to serve others as a managing editor this spring.
Within my own friendships, I have learned the importance of making the most of a difficult time and that there is so much more to our campus community than I realized when I was all too immersed in the comfort of what I already knew. But most importantly, I learned the importance of being able to rely on your relationships.
Oftentimes throughout college I found it difficult to admit my sore spots and ask for help from the people I considered closest. Over the past few months, I’ve learned to better express my feelings and my values, and because of that, the bonds I’ve made since freshman year are stronger than I knew possible. I’ve come to see vulnerability as a strength and learned that without it we will never be able to step into our most authentic selves.
I’ve learned to be more appreciative and receptive of the people I love’s needs and values as well. Empathy, compassion and kindness — those are the keys to long-term success. Caring for each other should be a constant balance, not something that is contingent upon routines.
This is the type of stuff my parents mean when they reference this incredible phase of life. While it may look and feel far different than the norm, there was still fun to be had and the memories from this fall leave a lasting, meaningful impact.
I guess that’s why they make this experience a full four years. So that you can come back, reflect and realize all of these things do in fact come full-circle. It may not happen how you picture it, but it does. It’s easy to take your foot off the pedal and speed downhill, but it takes strength to tap your brakes and value the ride.
Madeleine Sheifer, ’21, is the Editorial Pages Editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached [email protected]