If there’s one thing I remember about my college application process, it’s the abundance of phrases like, “It will all work out.” Heard from the mouths of family, friends, coaches and guidance counselors, everyone around me seemed positive that the hours of SAT prep and supplemental essay writing always places us where we’re supposed to be.
Spoiler alert: sometimes it doesn’t.
There are many factors that contribute to a college experience, and the reality is that sometimes they don’t result in the best four years of a person’s life. Promoting the narrative that college is the “best four years of your life” can be isolating to those who don’t feel that way.
In our age of social media, it is hard not to feel like everyone you know is having the time of their lives. But, it is extremely likely that someone failed a quiz before the date party or felt lonely before game day—though you would never know from their Instagram story.
In a time where highlight reels of our peers’ lives are available at the click of a button, it’s important to remember just how hard it is to know what someone’s going through. The sailing isn’t always as smooth as it appears.
It also would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the effects of the pandemic on our college experience. The word “unprecedented” has been thrown around a lot in the last 18 months, and for good reason. I can’t think of a time where our generation has faced such a collective trauma.
Earning a college degree is difficult, but doing it from your childhood bedroom while the world’s health seemingly crumbles around you often feels impossible.
It’s easy to feel guilty missing dorm life when you’re also fearing for your loved ones’ lives. I think we should be able to simultaneously feel the tragedy that is COVID-19 and feel the loss of the expectations we had for this time in our lives.
After the pandemic, a semester of commuting, studying abroad and graduating early, I will have spent one full semester—the fall of my freshman year—on Lehigh’s campus.
It’s safe to say that wasn’t what I expected when I decided to attend Lehigh in 2019, when I left for spring break in March 2020 or even last fall. Expectations can be a dangerous thing, and for lack of better phrasing, shit happens. Much of who we are is created when things don’t go as planned.
I recognize what an immense privilege it is to earn a degree at an institution like Lehigh, but I also believe that I can be grateful and dissatisfied at the same time. I feel so lucky to study what I love, to have met some incredible people and to have learned so much about myself. But I don’t think I’ll ever reflect on these years as the happiest I ever was. And I’ve learned to be okay with that.
While, yes, we’ll never be this young again, I’ve always found the idea that “it’s all downhill from here” to be such a downer. I reject it! I want every decade of my life to be an improvement from the last. I want so many great years that I can’t classify four of them as being the best. I want that for all of my peers as well.
As my time at Lehigh comes to a close, I am reminding myself to be present in this moment while looking forward to my next chapter. Here’s to some things working out and to having the strength to keep going even when they don’t.