Almost There: The End of Freshman Year

I have finally reached it. There is about a month left of the spring semester and with it, the official end to my first year of college. It has been a strange year, and I can honestly say I am happy about how it all turned out. Maybe it is the fact that I finally got my first vaccine, making me feel extra giddy, or perhaps it is just the reality that things got better, but a part of me is going to really miss college this summer.

Seven and a half months ago, I was not excited about college. The pandemic crashed into the end of my senior year, which was enough of a bummer, but my final summer before college was swept away as well. I barely saw my high school friends before I was packing everything up and driving eight hours south to St. Louis. A combination of pandemic anxiety as well as the actual factors that led me to college in the first place were not favorable. They were barriers that I could not get past, and the unhappiness in how I ended up here constantly seeped into my mind, influencing how I went about each day. Saying winter break was a relief is an understatement.

During my first time back home since I began college, I went through a series of doubts. I was doubtful about the pandemic getting better, I was doubtful about my place in college and I was doubtful about any of the choices I had made during the past year or so. Genuinely, I felt worse than I ever had. I found myself spiraling often with these questions: How were people enjoying the year while I was struggling to find my place? Had I screwed up and ruined my college years already? Why was I paying this much to be miserable? After one too many cry sessions to my mom, I knew I had to make a game plan. Since I knew repeating what the fall semester looked like was absolutely not an option and very well might just crush my spirit for good, I had to make some changes.

As I left the bitter winter of Minnesota, I arrived to a similar bitterness on campus. With the cold weather, everyone burrowed inside. Sparsely would I see another person on campus, and it felt very isolating. Despite this, I had to stick to what I wanted to accomplish. I began to immerse myself more in the clubs I was a part of and I branched out to join other organizations on campus. I knew that if I wanted to change anything, that would start with meeting more people. Forced socialization is always awkward and difficult at first, but it becomes easier with time. I found myself enjoying each of the classes I was in, and there was excitement in this new schedule I had created. I spent most of my time alone during fall semester, and as spring semester progressed, I was pleased to find my schedule more and more full.

As winter faded away and the sun began to come out again, so did students. There is instant serotonin that fills me when I see campus filled with life. People out and about, studying at desks, cheerfully walking with their Starbucks refreshers—it is all very comforting. The sight of other students reminds me that I am not alone. Without a doubt, I was not the only one with a bad winter. Given COVID-19, I am positive (no pun intended) I was not the only one wondering about their place in college. I reached out, forced myself out of my comfort zone and tried to embrace the little things. And surprisingly enough, it worked.

I have found myself in the company of supportive and nice friends. I have a healthy balance between time alone and time I am with others. After struggling through the fall semester, I did not think I would be able to fall into a group, but I did. I no longer worry about what everyone else is doing each night, and I don’t beat myself up for not doing more or making more of my college experience. I am more content with my life in a way I never thought I would be.

As May approaches and the inevitability of going home looms ahead, there are things I will miss. I won’t miss the nights spent cramming or the weeks when I felt like I genuinely did not have time to write that many papers or Grand dining food, but I will miss the beauty in between. I will miss studying out in the grass, walking through campus as spring blooms, nights spent laughing, playing games and sharing TikTok videos with friends. I will miss the memories I have made in just a few short months. I am eager to go home and relax for the summer, but I also know I can’t discount the good things I have found on campus.

For college freshmen alike, this year was far from expected. However, for what it’s worth, I think it has made us stronger, resilient and more willing to make the most out of every little moment. It all adds up. I am grateful for this challenging year, and I am grateful for the challenges I will encounter during my next three years of college. After all, what matters most is not the things you face, but how you choose to encounter and conquer them.