I entered college as a naive workaholic with no boundaries and very little life experience. I leave college next week as a seasoned workaholic who is working on their boundaries and with a good deal of life experience under my belt. So, beyond the classes I took to get my degree, I would say that I’ve learned quite a lot from my time at Geneseo, some of which I will share with you all today!
1. Never Stop Advocating For Yourself
One of the first things I learned at college is the importance of advocating for yourself. In my first semester, I took a microeconomics class and my final grade was a C+. It was my first time ever getting below a 90 on anything … ever! I reflected on how I went about the class and the material, and realized that I had always been too scared to go to office hours to ask my professor for more clarification on concepts I didn’t understand. I was afraid that I would look stupid—I’ve never been the best at math and so I was dreading economics. I also didn’t make very many friends in the class, so I couldn’t ask for their help or study with them, either. My lack of confidence to advocate for myself to understand the material was the reason I scraped by in that class, and I have been advocating for myself academically ever since.
But advocating for yourself doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. If you feel unheard and under-supported from your school, say something about it. I’ve attended several “town halls” and contributed to loads of conversations for change during my time at Geneseo because I felt underserved as a queer person and I saw my BIPOC classmates and friends be underserved, too. I saw a lack of adequate mental health services to properly serve our population, professors not being held accountable because of their tenure and fellow students being openly bigoted and administration doing nothing to hold those people accountable. So I advocated for myself, and stood by my classmates and friends as they also advocated for themselves. It is difficult, exhausting and repetitive, but someone has to do it.
2. Optimism is Great … Until it Bites You in the Butt
Not going to lie, college made me a cynical person. When I graduated high school, I was convinced that everything works out in the end. And looking back at that sentiment three years later as a college senior, I find that it’s true but in the worst way. I was convinced that I would magically figure out how to pay for college and that the few small-award scholarships that I got for college would last me at least a year. When my money ran out at the end of the first semester, I was panicking to try and figure out how I would stay in school. This ties into my fifth life lesson in this article, but long story short, I went through a lot of anxiety, tears and family confrontation to get to the end result of finding more federal loans for me to continue paying for college. Optimism and a belief that things will work out for the best in the end is perfectly okay, but running into things with blind optimism and without planning and hard work can often lead to disaster.
3. Always Get Things in Writing … Or in a Voice Memo
Did a professor say something in class and then go back on it after a few weeks? Did your boss say something completely out of whack during a one-on-one? If these things happen to you, I’m so sorry. BUT I’ve learned to always ask for things in writing. “Dr. Blank, would you mind sending that out in an email?” “Hey Boss, would you be able to write this addition to my job description out on paper for me?” Always have documentation of anything important, because if you need to hold someone accountable or report someone, having that concrete evidence of past promises or a crazy expectation being set is 110 percent the best way of proving yourself in an otherwise “he said, she said” situation. And if you don’t get it in writing? Try to voice record important meetings (New York, my state, and federal law has a single-party consent law for voice recordings, but check to see if your state allows it first!).
4. Taking Care of Yourself is Always Priority Number One
This isn’t meant to be a “toxic positivity” move, and it’s definitely something that has taken me a long time to understand. I’m definitely not perfect at practicing this, either. But I’ve started to get that in order to continue being a functional human being that does productive work, one must take care of themselves and the flesh sac that carries their brains from room to room. Eating three meals a day, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep are all things that college students, including me, struggle with. But throughout my senior year, I’ve realized that it’s not healthy to forgo these things! I am now the grumpiest person if I haven’t had nine hours of sleep the night before, and am willing to ignore my anxiety yelling at me to do more work in order to achieve it. Still working on the water thing, though...
5. Never Give Up
This life lesson is the hardest to learn and even harder to live up to. Throughout this article, I’ve mentioned a lot of difficult experiences I’ve faced during my time at college. I experienced bigotry and hate because of my queerness, and I’ve seen BIPOC friends and classmates experience bigotry and hate because of their race. I’ve experienced financial struggle and almost having to drop out because of it, and I’ve experienced academic hardships. But throughout all the struggles I’ve faced, I’m still here today, writing to you about it, and that’s because I’m stubborn enough to not give up for what I know is right, and what I know is best for me. I knew college was important for me, so I was in the financial aid office every day from Thanksgiving to finals week begging for more funding. I knew the bigotry of all forms that my classmates and I faced was wrong and needed to be addressed, so I went to rallies and protests and joined way too many committees and groups so I could be part of the force for change in the way my institution handles bias and hate. There are some days that I hate how hard I have to work, how hard my friends have to work, to be seen, listened to, understood and valued. But I keep getting back up because I have to. Never give up.
My undergraduate experience was truly life changing for me, in so many ways. I will take these lessons that I’ve learned with me into my future endeavors. What are my plans for the future, you ask? I will be serving with AmeriCorps for a year after graduation, and then I will be attending graduate school in the gender and sexuality studies field! I couldn’t have done it without learning these life lessons and without having Her Campus as my creative outlet during these past two years of school. With that being said, I wish you, dear reader, the best of luck with your undergraduate experience. This is Margaux, signing off!