When I was in high school, one of the most stressful times of each year was my birthday.
High school was a big change for me. After graduating from middle school with a class of 32 other students, the majority of which I had known since kindergarten, I transferred to a high school, consisting of 60 students in my small, religious, New York City school district.
Once I started high school, I quickly encountered students who I learned to call my friends as well as peers. However, as the years progressed and petty high school drama ensued within my small class, I found myself with friends, but never a friend group.
Although my class was almost twice the size of what I was used to, and despite having individual friends, I didn’t have friends that were friends with each other. I had my own circle of people whose company I enjoyed, but not necessarily a group of friends I could sit with at lunch in the cafeteria.
When my birthday would roll around in October each year, I would sit at the white desk in my room, intently staring at my iPhone’s Notes app, trying to decide whom I would invite to whatever I chose to do for my birthday that year.
Situations like this would lead me to daydream about college. I dreamt of a school, much larger than my tiny high school, where there would always be new faces around and new friends to make. I dreamt of endless potential, rather than being stuck with the same handful of people for years on end.
Each year, regardless of my precise coordination, I would find myself at my birthday dinner with an awkward and generally uncomfortable group. Most of my friends were unhappy to be in the company of people they didn’t like.
With COVID-19 and isolation beginning in March of my senior year, I began to understand who my real friends were. I continued to dream of my life in college. I wanted a life where I knew it would be normal to have friends in different places — a life where my friends wouldn’t necessarily know each other nor get along, because they no longer felt obligated to.
Beginning my freshman year at Lehigh, at the height of the pandemic, my dreams were crushed.
It wasn’t just difficult to meet my peers — it was nearly impossible. I was lucky enough to be randomly placed in a hall of Dravo where the girls on either side of me became two of my best friends.
We spent the beginning of our freshman year going to the lawn in front of the UC every weekend, attempting to meet anyone we could find in one of the outdoor spaces where we were allowed to congregate.
I met peers in my virtual classes, acquaintances whom I now wave to when I see them around campus and, ultimately, some of my closest friends.
When February and Panhellenic Recruitment came around, I was excited for the opportunity to meet new people and finally feel as though I had a proper group of friends.
After accepting a bid to my Greek organization, instead of feeling togetherness, I felt alone. I scoured my computer screen, only to find what felt like millions of unfamiliar faces looking back at me.
As time went on and COVID-19 restrictions began to ease up, I started to get to know the girls in my sorority better. As I did, I began to notice how our personalities bounced off each other. My newfound friends didn’t tear each other apart, but made each other better.
As I entered my sophomore year and was moving into my chapter house, it dawned on me how different my life was compared to when I first came to Lehigh the year prior. I was excited to live with my large group of friends — a group I now feel I belong to.
My birthday is no longer a stress-inducing time of the year — rather, it’s one of my favorites. I get to celebrate with my friends and they’re excited to be there and meet other people I’m friends with.
As I approach the halfway point of my undergraduate career, I have friends within my sorority who make me feel as though I always have a home and friendly face to return to, in addition to the other friends I’ve made along the way.
Although I was disheartened at the beginning, I wouldn’t have had my experience go any differently.