Freshmen Expectations: Thoughts on "What Made Maddy Run"

Most college girls walk onto campus freshman year with the same expectations for perfection, those expectations shaped by the perception of college we gain through social media. What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan immerses the reader in the life of Maddy Holleran, a UPenn track star who commited suicide her freshman year of college. Maddy was your typical gorgeous, brilliant, talented, high school student destined for greatness. Her freshman year of college looked absolutely perfect to everyone on the outside, but her internal strive for perfection became detrimental. In her writing, Kate Fagan does an amazing job of including statistics about depression, suicide, and anxiety in college students and college athletes especially. She also mentions the effect that social media induced hyper-connectivity can have on one’s perception. I originally read this book to gain a better understanding of depression as it is becoming increasingly present in college students yet I have little knowledge of the illness. I also can relate to the pressure Maddy puts on herself, and thought it would be a good read to give myself perspective. I think most college girls, especially freshman, can relate to the loneliness Maddy felt from the increasingly connected society caused by social media.

“Comparing your everyday existence to someone else’s highlight reel is dangerous for both of you”.  -Kate Fagan

Social media allows you to continuously scroll through everyone else’s highlight reel and receive the illustration of their life they want you to see. Growing up with social media, we are used to comparing our timeline to everyone else’s. You see that everyone else is loving their summer internship, vacationing somewhere gorgeous, or becoming best friends with their roommates. It allows us to compare ourselves with others in a way that previous generations did not. This creates pressure to stay on track and keep up with everyone else. This weight of comparison becomes increasingly heavy when we transition to college, and the first week is not like the first week we had hyped up in our heads. We turn to social media to see how this experience compares to everyone else’s, and are met with hundreds of pictures and videos of our friends from home seemingly making the perfect friends already. We feel pressured to build a social media resume similar to Maddy’s, that shows the perfect college experience. However, in most cases -like Maddy’s- our Instagrams do not accurately reflect the moments we are in.

                               Madison Holleran in her UPENN track uniform, pictured with her father.

College is one of the most memorable and incredible experiences in life. Everyone has this dream of the perfect college experience and a large part of this is due to the pictures we have seen from all our friends. You will get this experience at some point, but for a lot of people it does not start the minute you step foot on campus. Freshman year of college yields a combination of change, anxiety, and excitement, for students everywhere.

I thought I would adjust to college so easily, the same way Maddy thought she would. However, I spent the entire first semester of college in bed with mono, scrolling through Instagram immersed in jealousy of everyone else’s first semester. Wasn’t I supposed to meet my future bridesmaids by now? And have workout and study buddies? I came home for winter break worried there was something wrong with me. I had not felt like myself at all my first semester of college. After being an athlete all of high school, having mono for an entire semester left me feeling weak. My normal outgoing self was missing, as I had done nothing but sleep and desperately try to catch up in all of my classes. I was nervous to see my friends from home again, they had all seemed to have the perfect first semesters of college filled with new boyfriends, attending parties in cute outfits, and meeting new best friends. I wanted to know who the people in all of their Snapchats were, and how their classes were going. I was surprised to find that we all had similar first semesters of college, and our shared experience was completely opposite that displayed by our social media. We were all disappointed we had yet to find our group of people, and were not yet involved in the kind of organizations we loved so much in high school. When Maddy came home winter break of her freshman year of college, she shared the same concerns with her group of high school best friends. Maddy had not received the straight As she had all her life, nor was she the fastest runner on the track team. Maddy had something else on her plate that I did not- mental illness.

Kate Fagan points out that, “No one among them, parents included, cautioned that the transition to college might be unexpectedly difficult. Part of why no parent did so must have been because they simply could not imagine it would be. College had been different for their generation”. She goes on to explain that our parents did not struggle with the same repercussions we face resulting from the hyper connectivity created by social media. College students today can struggle from loneliness created simply by having access from our phones to footage of every single party, tailgate, late night Cookout run, and movie night that we are missing. It leads to a constant discontent and sense of loneliness even when you are with friends.  

Kate Fagan writes, “We’re consuming an increasingly filtered world yet walking through our own realities unfiltered”. Do not forget that everyone is showing you the version of their life and of college they want you to see. If you are struggling with your freshman year not holding up to your high expectations so far, reevaluate those expectations and take a step back from social media. Freshman year can be amazing if you do your best to live in the moment and not focus as much on what else is going on that you might be missing out on. My second semester of freshman year was amazing, and I went home extremely excited to go back for sophomore year. It was not until halfway through freshman year that I rushed a sorority, my sophomore year that I joined the Her Campus team as a writer and took a trip to Europe for engineering, and it was not until junior year that I became sisterhood chair of my sorority, and found best friends in my major to study with. There are so many exciting opportunities that await you, so don’t let comparing yourself to others alter your perspective freshman year. College will be four of the most amazing years of your life, but good things can take time, so don’t give up hope if the amazingness is not falling on you your first minute here. Virginia Tech is consistently recognized for having some of the happiest students in the country, so trust that you are in good hands in an incredible community.

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