Opinion: The best part of college is also the hardest part

After getting into college, my guidance counselor said, “I’m so jealous. I’d do anything to be eighteen again. College was the time of my life.” Even though she went to our rival school BU, her longing to live vicariously through me made me think, “College must be amazing. Six months until I have a life.”

Though I loved senior year, I hated high school. Every day I finished meant I was one day closer to graduating. Every grade raised or lowered my GPA. Every extracurricular added to my resume. I was a robot. I went through the motions to make it to the next phase, college, without thinking about what I wanted.

Courtesy of Ashley-May/Flickr

Courtesy of Ashley-May/Flickr

One quote from John Green’s “Paper Towns” captures exactly what I felt in high school. Green writes, “Every moment of your life is lived for the future—you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college.”

To think that I spent four years trying to earn perfect grades to attend a good university so my kids can attend a good university makes me question why I am here. Is it for me? Is it for my parents? Is it for my kids to go to college?

People always say the college years are the most amazing and formative of their lives, but when you think about it, it’s only four years. What happens after this? Is my life over? My guidance counselor would kill to be me, but she was me once.

Coming to college, I had no idea how to have the “best four years of my life” and succeed academically. I accomplished the latter in high school, but I had a sub-par four years. I spent most of my time doing homework and running from activity to activity.

Since Boston College students are known for their “Work Hard, Play Hard” mentality, I thought I would figure out the balance once school started. I was wrong. I was running around even more in college than I did in high school and by the end of the week, I was exhausted. My “playing hard” was lying in bed, catatonic, watching Mad Men on Netflix.

Also, I did not understand how to “work hard” anymore. I, like many Boston College students, am used to earning good grades, and when I “worked hard” but did not see the same results, I was confused. My responses in class weren't good enough. My writing was not good enough. My best was not good enough.

A peer of mine complained about a girl in our class outshining us all, saying, “Does she do a line of cocaine before class? How does she have so much energy? She just has to set the bar for participation so high.” We were all lifeless in comparison, not so perfect.

Courtesy of Angela Radulescu/Wikimedia

Anna Quindlen. Courtesy of Angela Radulescu/Wikimedia

Luckily, I read Anna Quindlen’s Mount Holyoke Commencement speech for Courage to Know early first semester and it saved me. In the speech, Quindlen talks about being perfect and how unimportant it is. In fact, it ruins you. She says, “If you have been perfect all your life, and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where your core ought to be.”

It took that sentence to convince me that a B+ would not ruin my life. If I sat around and whined that I was not perfect, then I would never change. Instead, I sought help from my professor and TAs to improve. Others deal with the difficulties in different ways, a person in my hall received a C- on an economics exam and ate an entire tray of cupcakes from On the Fly to ease the pain of imperfection. Cupcakes taste great for the few minutes you’re eating them, until you realize they will not teach you anything about economics.

I can’t say I haven’t had moments when I emotionally ate my way out of distress, but if I do that every time I am slightly overwhelmed or unhappy, I am not doing myself any good. It is easier, much easier, to make myself feel better by eating a cupcake than to hurt my pride a bit and approach a professor to say “I don’t understand. I made a mistake.” But, who said college would be easy?

My guidance counselor said these were the four best years of her life, not the easiest. Sure, I do not have a child or a mortgage, but I have responsibilities.  We all do. We are all trying to figure out these four allegedly amazing years while we juggle academics, activities, and social lives. We are all in the same position. To me, that understanding is the best part about college.

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