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A Super Senior Reflects: Who Are You and What Do You Want To Be?

Who Are You and Who Do You Want to Be? A super senior’s reflections on what college can begin to teach you.

Fresh Starts and New Faces
This year Pitt welcomes over 18,000 Undergraduate students to campus. Each one full of hopes, desires and reservations for what the semester will bring. By this time most of us are ready to commence the Fall Term and the rhythm of college life. After four years at Pitt, (I’m a fifth year senior looking to graduate in December), I relate to the complete spectrum of emotions, highs and lows that coincide with the fall semester-return.

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Skyline, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Lagged2Death’s photostream

Last Thursday night, I finally arrived in Pittsburgh at 1:00 a.m. Cruising down an empty Forbes Avenue my gaze swept the speckled glowing windows of the Towers and Quad dorms. After three spectacular months in South America I surprised myself: was I feeling warm and homey from this first spotting of Pitt’s Campus? A quote from a summer reading of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of two Cities crept into my mind. In the language and rhythm that is so markedly Dickens he writes,

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret, that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

Dickens illustrates the mixed emotional rush that comes from a new semester, in a city filled with over 300,000 people. We are strangers yearning to know one another and if we are lucky form bonds that develop into friendships.

Often times those “human creatures” that are “profound and secret mysterious to every other” have the power to make or break us. As I reflect over the past four years there are of course the important academic decisions such as to switch my major and add a minor but the most prominent moments involve friendships. The life-altering moments of my life are pinpointed to the people. If you picture your best friend in college, you probably imagine someone with similar interests and who is at least close to your age. Well, I’d like to encourage you to push the spectrum of who you imagine as a friend and who you allow to impact your life.

For the past two years I occasionally choose to study less for a test so I could meet Milena, a native Spanish speaker wanting to learn English. Together we became experts in every coffee shop between Oakland and Squirrel hill, while improving our language skills. You might say receiving an A is more important than a conversation. And you may be right. But after two years of conversational practice Milena and I formed a friendship. Then, one day Milena said, “Francisco (Milena’s husband) and I are returning to Colombia for a year. I would like you to come visit me and meet my family.”

I thought the offer was phenomenal but would never become reality. Somehow, life has a way of happening, as it should. People form friendships for all sorts of reasons. Milena and I initially bonded over our desire to learn each other’s native tongue. Yet, this thirty three year old married woman and I, even though we initially spoke different languages, always had fluid communication. Post an amazing summer in South America my concept of reality has expanded ten fold.

The Privilege to Transform Ourselves and Later, Impact the World
I use to think Pittsburgh was just all right. More often than not, over the past four years I dreaded returning to a city that, to me, felt more like a “glorified town” then an exciting city. Today I’m pumped to be back. This city is clean. This city is safe. And though we all complain about Port Authority I’m telling you after months of hot, jam-packed buses that took nonsensical routes, Pitt has marvelous public transportation.

My time in South America changed me – I’d like to think for the better. But it was choices I made at Pitt from changing my major, to be-friending a foreigner, and joining a sorority that created a young woman who was ready for transformation. Today I have a better grasp of who I am and where I’m going. Freshman to Graduate student, it’s up us to make the choices this semester that will set a foundation for who we will become. We truly have the power to impact our world. Particularly as students in the United States, we are the still the country the world is watching.

Consider this..

While in Brazil my host uncle asked me if I could remember where I was and what I was doing on 9/11 when the World Trade Towers fell. I said of course and told him. And then returned the question. He said, “I think the entire world remembers where they were and what they were doing on that horrible day.”

What about Dane Cook? Imagine a 19-year-old Colombian college student flawlessly delivering (in English) Dan Cooks’ “The Friend Nobody Likes” joke. Apparently the concept is universal.

My point, we are gaining an education in a country that in one way or another the world looks to. Whether you want to tell jokes, impact international policy or cure cancer – simply because we are studying in the United States (and of course at Pitt) we have privilege and power, we are a step ahead of so many.

In an edition of Yale’s the News, Marina Keegan addresses her graduating class with an essay entitled The Opposite of Loneliness. Sadly, Keegan passed away at 22 in a car crash this past summer. But her words and message remain: 

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that. We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.”

It’s crazy to think college is a simple four (and for some four and a half) years. And like Keegan you truly never know if your time will be cut short. For those of us given the time, we have decisions to make.

And so I ask you, this semester: What choices will you make? Who will you befriend this semester that could impact your life’s course? What will college begin to teach you about who you want to be?

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