As the fall commences and colder weather begins to seep in, I have been thinking a lot about how the college students out there must feel about starting a new year. I always associated the fall with William & Mary, my alma mater, and after I graduated I expected to be very nostalgic for that place this time of year. But I’m not.
When I was a senior, I felt ready to leave college, and I wanted other students after me to also feel ready when their turn came. I didn’t want them to exit their undergrad years with regrets just as I was leaving without regrets. So I wrote an open letter to them, and I’m posting it here today for all those undergrads out there looking to experience their college years as fully as possible.
Note: The following text was written in the spring of 2015 when I was a senior in college.
When I was an underclassman, I regularly solicited advice from seniors on how to make the most of my time at W&M. I figured that since they were graduating soon, they probably had some kind of retrospective insight I hadn’t acquired yet on how to live out my college years. I wanted them to tell me what to spend my time on, their strategies for dodging unnecessary worry, and, ultimately, how to avoid regret.
I didn’t want to leave this place feeling like I had done college wrong. Now that I’m in their shoes, I understand why the seniors I prompted with questions never had much to say. It’s hard to reflect on college until the end is literally right in front of you, staring you in the face. I’ve been avoiding the realities of what spring semester means for a while now, and classes end in two weeks.
But today I gave my penultimate campus tour (I’m a tour guide) to prospective students and I almost cried at the end. It wasn’t something I was expecting. Honestly, I haven’t felt very nostalgic about the close of my time here. Sometimes, I’ve even felt anxious for it to be over already.
As I walked back to the library after the tour was finished, I tried to sort out why I had suddenly felt so sad. Eventually, I realized that what I was going to miss about W&M, and what you were probably expecting me to say, is the people. What feels good about community is being known, and knowing in return.
I am going to miss my housemates, who care about my emotional and physical wellbeing. I am going to miss walking to the terrace on a nice day with the assurance that I will inevitably find someone there I can sit with. I’m even going to miss those people I exchange waves with when we see each other on campus, even though we only rarely get to talking.
Ultimately, I’m going to miss the individuals who have spent time knowing me, who have allowed me to know them right back. This is community: the act of finding a small group of human beings and building a home out of knowing.
And as I thought about this, I briefly wanted the ability to stop time and spend another year here. But that desire was only temporary. Because I realized something else, too. The deep sadness I feel about leaving people I love is accompanied by somewhat unrelated feelings of boredom.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t see this boredom as a bad thing. It stems from the fact that I did everything I wanted to do at W&M. Throughout my time here, I sought every opportunity, followed every whim. I did all I came to do. And now I can leave this place with the peace that it is time for this chapter to close. New adventures await, and new places are aching to be explored.
So, I’ll give the underclassmen out there the advice I always sought from my senior counterparts when I was in your shoes. Every person experiences college differently, and each of these experiences are legitimate. But for me, I am able to leave college with satisfaction because I genuinely believe I pursued everything I wanted.
To you I say: do it all. Stay up later than normal with people you hardly know to talk about life. Apply for that position or scholarship you think you’ll never get. Eat a cookout shake. (Eat a few cookout shakes.) Abandon your homework in the library for a spontaneous adventure to the city over with your roommate, just because you can. Fail at a number of endeavors, and let the wound sting. Listen to the perspectives of others and make yourself think genuinely about them. Study abroad. Question every little thing about yourself and your values because that’s how you find out the truth. Volunteer, and volunteer a lot. Join the club frisbee team for two weeks and then quit because you don’t actually like competitive frisbee, but now you know you don’t like it. Embrace pain when it comes. Go through an awful breakup. Skip class to enjoy the first sunny day of spring, or to sleep. Run for student government because you always wanted to do student government in high school but you were too afraid to try back then. Stay friends with those people from freshman year who challenge you the most and love you the best while also making new friends every semester. Walk around campus with your head up and eyes open, feeling all this wonder and excitement because you are HERE, because this is COLLEGE, and because it’s a beautiful existence, this one you’re living. Relish every moment.
I know this is cheesy. But it’s the truth for me. I hope you do it all here, and I hope you do it with people you love. I hope you leave college bored.
Anything else you’d add? What’s some other good pieces of advice for college undergrads?