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The Unbearable Lightness of Being a College Student


Mount David at sunset. Photo by Jessie Jacobson ’16 (portfolio)

How many times in a semester do I freak out about how I have an exam the same day that I have three papers due? And why do I think it’s a respectable idea to stay out way too late, so late that I am dead-dog tired the next day? And how can I explain that strange, melancholy feeling on a Sunday afternoon that is particularly gray and dreary? That feeling that probably can only be quelled by watching a football game with my dad and brother, as my mom and sister chat in the kitchen? Whenever I am experiencing these internal conflicts, I text my best friend from high school, who simply responds, “College is hard.” And I know that I am not the only college student who struggles, as I constantly get similar texts from her. Once again, the only response I can think to give is, “College is hard.” And, trust me, it is!

But what makes college so hard? After frequently thinking about this question, I realize that what causes all of these struggles is simply the fact that college acts as a bridge between childhood and adulthood. And I am uncomfortable sitting still on this bridge—anyone would be. The river below my symbolic bridge is rough and strong… but it’s also beautiful. On one side of the river, my childhood is calling me to run back, tempting me with memories of being carefree and reliant on my family and friends. On the other end of the bridge, my adulthood is calling me, with the allure that permeates the prospect of an adult life that I can build based off my own aspirations.

Photo Credit

Okay, so I hope I’ve effectively established why college is hard, but, if you really think about it, college also is weird. Who decided it was a good idea to create a place where a bunch of kids live together with no supervision? The entire concept of college is begging for disaster. We literally live in our own little land of people in their late teens and early twenties—flirting, laughing, fighting, partying, studying, and looking towards every new horizon with inexperienced eyes. I always realize how isolated I am when I go off campus and realize I haven’t seen a baby or an old person in ages. Or when I cringe to realize that I have no idea of the current events that are occurring in my own country. Getting trapped in the “Bates Bubble” can be suffocating.

Anyway, back to the questionable concept of the institution of college itself, it is no wonder that college students carelessly abuse drugs and alcohol, or blow all of their savings in two months, stop wearing anything other than sweatpants, or gain 15 pounds in their first semester. No one is holding our hands to lead the way; we are blindly stumbling through our day-to-day lives, figuring it out as we go along. But the treatment of college students is not single-sided. Half of the time, we are treated as adults, half of the time we are treated as kids. As we are now living alone, we are expected to “act like adults.” So that means, well, what, exactly? Am I completely free of constraint, completely free to act and think unrestrictedly? That I can poison my body with whatever substance I choose? Dye my hair purple? Get a tattoo on my face? Stop worrying about doing anything, aside from listening to Pearl Jam and watching The Office?

Jim Halpert says yes. (Photo Credit)

Obviously, the answer to that question is, well, NO, that is not how we should be living our lives. So, the other half of the time, we are being treated almost like children. The college administration is telling us what not to do on the weekends. Our parents are telling us what educational results they wish to see. Our professors are telling us what and how to absorb knowledge. The dissonance that arises in the dualistic expectations of a college student muddies how we should perceive ourselves. Am I a kid or am I an adult? This conflicted self-consciousness of what I should be embodying as a college student acts as a huge and ruthless rapid in my symbolic river, a source of anxiety for anyone idling on the above bridge.

So, what am I supposed to do? For the next three years, I am fixed on this bridge. I guess I could stare at the water and only focus on the unforgiving current or sharp rocks—many students probably do. But, as I mentioned before, the river also is beautiful. So, college is hard… but college also is brilliant. If I’m going to be on this bridge for a while, I might as well notice how the water is a lovely shade of blue or that that the spray of the river feels refreshing on my skin. While, as a college student, my independence may not be limitless, I am still one step closer to living a future designed solely by me. And while I should now try to act as a grownup, my mom is still always willing to answer my phone calls to listen and give advice. And despite all of the difficulties that exist in the life of a college student, there are equally as many wonderful experiences. Diverse people to meet, beer to drink, food to try, clubs to join, books to read, equations to solve, thoughts to be thought. We have the best of both worlds, in a sense, an enriching childhood existing in our memory banks and a mysterious, exciting future in front of us. 

I choose to try my best to enjoy this transitional bridge between my past and future. I’ll roll up the bottom of my jeans and let the river run over my toes, letting the sun warm and relax me. The next time my friend texts me with a worry or setback, I’ll simply respond, “College is hard… but college also is great.” And, trust me, it is.

Photo Credit

Jane is a senior at Bates College, majoring in English and minoring in History. Outside of class, she dances ballet and practices yoga, religiously listens to Dave Matthews Band, and is a firm believer that dark chocolate acts as a well-rounded meal.
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