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INTRODUCING Senior Sendoff: Taking Care of Yourself

There’s one thing we have to admit: senior girls have swag. They get the most sleep, they have the most fun, and they walk with the most confident step. But they weren’t always that way.
Introducing our all-new column: Senior Sendoff. Each month staff writer Ashtyn Hemendinger will explore one thing she’s learned throughout college, sharing her misadventures and lessons learned to the benefit of the rest of us. See if you can’t relate to her stories—I dare you.
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Looking back at my time spent at Carnegie Mellon I see three years filled with fun, stress, laughter and tears. I’ve definitely had my share of memories that I would relive over and over again. Then there are those times (or nights more specifically) I would care not to think about ever again. For all of you just beginning your college adventures or even you seniors who want to be nostalgic, read on to see the first installment of what I’ve learned from my time at Carnegie Mellon as well as advice that I wish someone told the freshmen version of myself.

I have always been a hard working and dedicated student. So of course Carnegie Mellon was the perfect school for me—a place where I would be surrounded by fellow hard workers. From the moment I entered this school I threw myself into my academic work. Instead of forming friendships during Orientation Week I was in CFA practicing the trumpet solo in Mahler 5. Instead of getting my fill of burritos and tacos at Schatz Mexican Night, I was quickly eating in between rehearsals, classes and homework. All I wanted was to succeed, so I put class, work and studying before myself and my needs. Add in extra curricular clubs and organizations and there was little time for anything else. I would stay up until the early hours of the morning studying—which I soon learned was the norm for many CMU students.
I’m reminded of one time where I put school before myself; it was for freshman year Interpretation and Argument, the required class freshmen hate to take. I decided to write the first draft of my final paper in one sitting the night before it was due. Of course, when I added on to that one sitting my brainstorming, researching, perfectionism and Facebook procrastination I ended up with a sum of many hours spent in the Morewood Gardens computer cluster. My head throbbed as the sun began to rise. I was writing and revising when all of a sudden my eyes started to close. The next moment I remember is waking up at the cluster at 7am with my head on the keyboard.

When I got up I felt terrible. My throat and head hurt and my eyes burned.  I quickly finished my paper and went to my 8:30am class. I could barely keep my eyes open. As I walked to class—or more so dragged myself—I ran into a guy from my trumpet studio. “Wow, you look tired,” he said to me, a.k.a., “Wow, you look like crap.” I pushed his comment to the back of my mind and continued to class.
As I took my seat in Baker HallI looked around me at my well-rested classmates with papers that were only halfway finished. Our teacher walked in and as she got to the front of the classroom she explained how numerous students had emailed her about not being able to finish in time. She then announced she was going to extend the deadline to next week. I sat there, stunned. I had spent my entire night and morning working on that paper only to arrive to class and realize my instructor had changed the deadline? The day went on and I could barely stay awake in any of my classes. I regretted staying up all night.
Putting schoolwork before taking care of myself not only affected my sleeping cycle but also my social life. My strive for perfection drove me to interact less and less with my friends as the semester went on. It was about halfway into the semester and things were getting pretty stressful. Family and academic stresses were piling up and I couldn’t handle it anymore. I woke up one morning and was having trouble breathing; I thought I was dying. It turns out I was having a panic attack.

Later on in the day I was on the phone with my Mom and she told me to relax and go have fun with my friends. Friends? Oh, yeah. I forgot about those. When I ended my conversation with my Mom I started to think about what I had done to myself. I was sad, isolated, and sleep-deprived, but what did I have to show for those long nights of working? A few A’s and unattractive dark circles under my eyes. From that moment on I promised myself things would be different. I would never put taking care of myself second. I would always be my priority.
For the rest of that semester I tried to go to bed earlier, hung out with my friends and became more involved in my sorority. After doing this I realized how happy I was. I was able to concentrate more in my classes and even able to improve my grades.
By putting yourself first and taking care of yourself, you will actually be able to clear your mind and focus on success. I still have those nights where I do a “walk of shame” from Hunt library at 6am, but when it comes down to putting my school work over my health, I don’t do it anymore. I don’t continue to push myself to stay awake to finish a homework assignment if I’m falling asleep every five seconds. Doing that to yourself is unproductive and none of the material sticks in your head at that point anyway.
So have fun, go out, meet new people and find things that you love to do: these are essential for maintaining your wellbeing. Just make sure you balance your social life with your schoolwork. Personally, I know that without my friends I would not have been able to get through those long nights of finishing a programming assignment or writing a six-page paper. But always remember: the most important thing is that you take care of yourself because if you don’t, no one will.

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