During my first week as a UMD student, I walked through a tunnel with my fellow incoming students, lined by upperclassmen orientation leaders, staff, and faculty cheering as we were welcomed to the UMD community. Just a couple months ago, I walked through a similar tunnel. Except this time, it was lined by faculty members dressed in commencement regalia while I was outfitted with my black robe and gold tassel. This time, I walked through that tunnel on my last day as a UMD student.
That wasn’t my last act as a member of the UMD community; I have still been working in the office over the summer. It also wasn’t my last day as a student, as I will be starting a graduate program this fall. But it was the last day of my four years as a UMD student, years which were filled with experiencing more change in myself than I could have possibly wrapped my mind around as a lost and intimidated freshman.
While at UMD, I spoke to a lecture hall’s worth of people, voluntarily, on several occasions. In high school, I couldn’t speak in front of a small class without my voice trembling. At UMD, I danced and yelled and acted a fool while wearing a bright t-shirt and flower headband, for a week, surrounded by hundreds of people. In high school, I did everything I could to disappear into my surroundings, and avoided attention at all costs. At UMD, I completed my psychology degree and got accepted into a counseling grad program. In high school, I had never taken a psychology class nor considered a profession in which I would be so closely involved with others.
I have a distinct and difficult memory of the day when I made the jump from my high school life to my college one. My parents and brothers had helped me move my things into my dorm and shop for dorm-friendly snacks and decor, and now all that was left was to say goodbye. Leading up to that day, I had been excited about being on my own. But when the moment came to stand on a new campus in a new city full of strangers while my family drove away, I hesitated. I tried feebly to say something that would keep them around a little longer, because I suddenly felt lost and alone, terrified of what my shy self would do when my support system left me.
I like to think of that moment when I look toward the day in the near future when I will be moving across the country to begin a new program at a new school in a state where I don’t know a soul. It’s a similar situation, yet this time, I’ll have four years of growth and strength to draw on. I started at UMD shy, timid, alone, and confused, but I’m leaving it open, confident, and capable.
Reflecting on all this, I can think of so many things I wish I could have told my college self throughout the past 4 years. In the absence of this opportunity, I’ll write my advice here, in the hopes that some other college student might benefit.
So, here’s what I can tell you. Know that you won’t be the same person as you move your tassel across your cap on commencement day as you were when you first walked on campus as an 18-year-old. Know that the changes that occur during that time in between are up to you, mostly. Know that your openness to new experiences, new people, and new ideas will become the foundation and the finishing touch on your college experience. Know that there will be things that happen to you, both good and bad, which will influence that experience just as much as the things you choose to do. Know that you don’t need to be in such a rush to figure it all out. It’ll happen somehow, perhaps without you even knowing it.
Most importantly, know that college is going to end one day, and after that, you are pushed out of the educational bubble you’ve lived in most of your life and will truly be responsible for the state of your existence. So before that day, take advantage of these years to focus on yourself.
Flip all the furniture around in the lounge of the dorm floor below yours (ahem..just kidding..I definitely never did that…). Stay up way too late hanging out with your friends even though you have a test at 8am the following day. I promise you, you’ll remember those late nights more than you’ll remember whatever grade you’ll get on that test. Take a ceramics class even though your parents are pushing you to be a doctor like the rest of the family. Embrace every crazy, fun, overwhelming, emotional, unforgettable moment.
If done right, your college years will be ones you’ll miss. I know I will.