I’ve never been good at goodbyes. The word itself implies the sadness of parting from somewhere or someone for a decided or undecided period of time, and it usually causes my over-emotional self to collapse into a puddle of tears.
Over the course of my time at Lehigh, I’ve said goodbye to a lot of things: old friends, toxic relationships, but most importantly, my unrealistic pre-college expectations. And with each goodbye, the ugly tears never failed to arrive. For the longest time, it was the latter that held me back from enjoying all that Lehigh had to offer, and it wasn’t until I finally let my preconceived notions about how my college experience should go that I actually started to enjoy it.
Before coming to Lehigh, I had a plan for what I wanted my college experience to look like. I would join a sorority, audition for an a cappella group, take classes I was interested in, and most importantly, make lifelong friendships. My childhood friends and I were (and still are) extremely close, and I was so determined to find more trustworthy and loyal confidants to add to my circle.
Like most college freshmen, I was so eager to make new friends that I would force myself to step outside of my comfort zone to talk to new people, even knocking on a few doors to introduce myself. Before long, I found myself being added to numerous group chats to discuss going to parties or hanging out in people’s rooms, and just like that, I belonged to a friend group. Check.
Soon, classes began and I started to fall in love with the journalism department and all of the interesting courses I was able to take. Check.
A few weeks later, a cappella auditions began and I made it to every group’s callback. Check. I soon found out I ultimately didn’t get put into a group. X.
This was my first college disappointment, but I learned to quickly brush it off going into winter break and focused my energy on preparing for sorority recruitment, which is where my story really begins.
First semester, sorority recruitment was all that my friends, home and school, would talk about in pretty much every conversation. Which chapter did we want to belong to? Which house invited us to which party? Probably because of everyone I surrounded myself with, rush began to dominate every aspect of my freshman year, affecting how I would act or dress in front of certain people just to earn their approval. But I didn’t realize just how much power it had over me until it was over, leaving me empty handed.
When I withdrew from the process a day before the last because there wasn’t a house left on my list that I thought I wanted to be part of, I felt an unsettling calmness for someone who just had all of their hopes for a “perfect” college experience ripped out from underneath them. I attribute that to shock, but it helped that I was surrounded by some friends in the same boat.
It wasn’t until the days and weeks that followed that I actually processed this giant disappointment and everything it meant going forward — and that is when seemingly everything in my life began to fall apart.
My friends that joined chapters started making new friends and gradually began to drift away. My remaining friends received snap bids to other houses. My two-year-long relationship at the time ended abruptly with a single phone call.
I was completely and utterly alone.
The pain and betrayal that I felt was excruciating and unlike anything I had ever experienced. It wasn’t because I didn’t get to drive up the Hill on bid day or sport Greek letters on a sweatshirt. It was because the expectations I had built up in my head for as long as I could remember came crashing down in an instant, leaving me to question whether or not it was my fault. It felt like everyone in my life, old and new, was walking right out of it without a second thought. The dangerous question steadily crept into my mind and couldn’t leave: What was wrong with me?
My days and nights after that were spent crying on the phone to my parents, going home or visiting friends at other schools during the weekends and working on my transfer applications. I still confided in remaining friends, but they got busier. I knew they couldn’t really understand how I was feeling, so I stopped burdening them.
I turned into someone I didn’t recognize, keeping my head down and counting the days until summer break began for the chance to reset and start fresh somewhere else — or so I thought.
I still don’t know what the reason was exactly, but something inside me told me that I wasn’t finished with Lehigh just yet, so after a rejuvenating summer and ample time to clear my head, I decided to return for my sophomore year, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
I came back to school in August 2018 with a completely new attitude about college. I surrounded myself with new friends, realized that I needed to break ties with old ones and overall focused on readjusting my definition for the “perfect” college experience.
It boiled down to one thing: Do what makes you happy, regardless of what anyone thinks.
I rebuilt my confidence and re-auditioned for a cappella. Not only was I accepted into a group, but into a family I never envisioned I would be a part of, filled with some of the most genuine, talented and accepting people I had ever met. My weeks became filled with music and joy and I looked forward to every rehearsal, gig and concert we were able to put on. We were invited to open for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, twice, and we released a full-length album on Apple Music and Spotify.
I applied to be an editor of The Brown and White, and the application poster doesn’t lie when it says it can change your life. From an assistant position, to Lifestyle Editor and now through Managing Editor, I found another family on campus to call my own filled with some of the most incredible and hardworking people I ever had the pleasure of meeting. I was given the opportunity to travel to New Orleans for the Online News Association conference to meet more like-minded people and make professional connections that have allowed me to more confidently pursue a career in media.
Once I really gave it a shot and threw away all my expectations for how I thought my college experience would and should be, I finally found my place and my voice on this campus. I accomplished things and seized opportunities I never would have gotten had I given in to the uncertainty and despair and walked away all those years ago.
When I think back to that dark time in my life, I realize that what I hated the most about the whole experience was how badly it made me feel about myself. Yes, rejection from people you thought you could trust definitely hurts, but the idea that I was holding myself back from being my authentic self just to conform to a shallow system and try to gain the approval of others is mind boggling to me and so unlike the person I’ve become.
Now, as I get ready to say goodbye to Lehigh in a few short months, I reflect on all of the memories, the good and the bad, and everything I’ve learned about myself along the way that has prepared me for life beyond the walls of this campus.
I’ve learned about the depths of my resilience. I’ve learned not to trust people too quickly and to have better judgement. Most importantly, I’ve learned that everything truly happens for a reason.
As miserable and alone as I felt during my freshman year, I wouldn’t take back a second of it. If I never went through that experience I never would’ve realized how much more life there was to live outside the bounds of my naive, teenage plans about college.
I am myself — unapologetically, and it took four years for me to find that person.
As I look toward the future, I know that I will always carry with me the lessons and memories I’ve acquired here at Lehigh, and I’ll always be thankful for my highest of highs and lowest of lows. Because you know what they say, when you hit rock bottom, the only place left to go is up.