Daniella Fishman, Culture & Business Editor |
As my final semester crawls to a close, it’s easy to stand at the finish line completely dumbfounded at the warzone I just crossed. The last year and a half of my college career have been robbed in the wake of COVID-19. From the second my hands touch my diploma, I know I’ll hear praise for being able to finish school regardless of the pandemic. Coworkers will share the trials and tribulation they experienced finishing their degrees with this added baggage. All will mourn the last bit of youth lost as a result. Yet, I sit here writing this, and I can’t help but reflect on my previous college years with fondness. Something that I never believed I would say while I was living through them. The difficulties presented to me year after year felt worse than the last, and while my overdramatic mind may, at the time, have felt like my world was ending, I now see it as a journey towards finding myself—another drop in the bucket of life.
Entering my freshman year, I was catapulted into a world I had only seen in movies. Parties that seemed to happen daily, bouncing from dorm to dorm searching for new memories, staying up late, going to class early—it was all new to me. For the first few months, everyone greeted one another with open arms and kind smiles, an act that I carried through the rest of my college career. All people want is to feel accepted and welcomed, especially when coming into a situation they are uncomfortable with (incoming freshmen, parties, etc.). Freshman year taught me the importance of opening yourself up to those around you. Everyone has lessons they will teach you, some good, some bad, but all worth exploring. Being someone who accepts and listens to everyone will garner you the affection of others.
As freshman year shifted into sophomore year, more and more of my friends began getting swept up into Greek life and other various organizations. Once you become part of a group, the promise of guaranteed friendship is too enticing for any freshman to ignore. I have already written at length about my sorority experience, so I will spare you the retelling of that tale. However, it was one of the most crucial moments of my college career.
The decision to rush my sophomore year sparked an internal wakeup-call. I had become unhappy with the person who I had tried to become for the sake of “fitting in.” I felt as though I had lost the old Dani, and I missed her. Sophomore year was when I promised myself that I would never again change myself to appease or gain the validation of anyone other than myself. You don’t need to belong to a group to feel whole.
I spent most of my junior year getting my mind back on track; I developed a consistent routine with my personal life and studies. As the winter semester drew to a close, I prepared myself for the mystical world outside of college. I had begun to take a step in the right direction, my priorities were all in line… and then COVID happened.
Everything that I had spent meticulously setting up had been thrown into complete disarray. Life’s routine crumbled, and I, along with the entire world, was forced to accept a reality I had not planned for.
This period was a particularly stressful time, as I’m sure it was for everyone. We tried to maintain our hope, finding light in whatever sliver of the outside we could hold on to. For me, this period marked a time of deep personal reflection. Was I happy with the path I had initially chosen for myself before the world shut down? Do I still find that path fulfilling? As the months dragged on, I only grew further and further away from the person I thought I was supposed to become.
College had set up a world around me, one that was expecting me to go into the workforce once I graduate. It took the world halting to understand that this path was not one that I wanted or needed. The isolation of quarantine put a lot of things into perspective. Everything that we see around us, at any given time, can just disappear. Everything that you worked so hard for can be washed away without a second thought. Is it worth it to expend your energy on something you think you need to do, in turn sacrificing your own happiness when it inevitably goes away? Or would you rather create something that you’ll cherish, experience something that deserves no words, only your happiness to give it justice?
Everyone is struggling right now; everyone is lost in their path. Teachers and students alike are struggling to maintain attention and motivation to finish out this challenging semester. No one is happy with the way school is being taught. No amount of “wellness days” will ever give us enough time to heal from the trauma of being ripped away from society. The continuation of my senior year has taught me that no matter how difficult your current reality will get, just try. Persevere through the uncomfortable difficultness that situations bring because then you’ll be able to understand the importance of the past.
I’ve been a student for the past 12 years of my life; I think it’s time for a break. This tumultuous final year of schooling has convinced me that it’s okay to take time to rest. My previous aspiration of going to graduate school after college has been placed on the backburner and hidden behind many, many indoor plants. It’s taken me a while to get comfortable with the idea of taking a break, especially after constantly being told, “once you take a year off, you’ll never go back to school!” But why is that a bad thing? So, what if I never go back to school, shouldn’t my happiness matter the most? I encourage everyone currently feeling trapped or lost to ponder these questions. Reflect on this past year. Are you leading yourself to fulfillment or a facade?
College is meant to be a time of inexpectancy. Everyone, regardless of COVID, goes into this chapter with that understanding. You are meant to find yourself, to explore aspects of your psyche that you’ve previously been unaware of or have repressed. Coming to terms with who you are as a person is what defines your youth. You are meant to mess up; you are expected to cry and feel frustrated and scared. But isn’t that a beautiful feeling? To feel totally lost is cause to reinvent yourself. College taught me that no matter the difficulties life has challenged me with, it’s all a gift, a chance to learn and better myself. Thank you, Oneonta, for four difficult, stressful, beautifully cathartic years. I wouldn’t change it for the world.