As warm weather and spring arrive it reminds me more and more that time is passing and my first year of university is coming to an end. I wrote about how I was feeling heading off to school, so I thought it rather appropriate to write about the ending as well. This year has been about rapid growth and discovery. I’ve learned just as much outside of the classroom as in it. As the school year comes to an end, I have organized all my thoughts into five lessons that I want to share with you.
1. You don’t have to lose yourself.
So often we think that reinventing ourselves will make us cooler or better people. I think especially in a new experience like university, we believe that making ourselves different will get us the best friends or protect us from the scary parts. Maybe instead of recreating ourselves we can focus on growing and becoming a better version of the person we are rather than losing them completely. That’s hard to do in university. There are so many people, programs and clubs telling you to be someone else. Commit to being authentic.
2. Being a young girl in a university town is scary.
No matter where I am there is a fear of walking around at night or in secluded areas. This fear is heightened at university. I had a conversation with a man at residence yesterday and he thought that my friends having my location was “kinda creepy and controlling”, this reminded me that not everyone lives like this on campus. This should make us mad. In university or college there is an expectation of being a little stupid and having so much fun because of it. That’s an important part of the experience but as women we have to remain aware all the time. The lesson is not to be scared, but to be safe and make others feel safe. Offer to walk your friends home in groups, check in with your girls at parties or in big events and be smart about your decisions.
3. F**k the freshman fifteen.
Society is always going to comment on your body. Society is always going to look at weight gain as a defeat. You don’t have to subscribe to that. Some of my best memories of first year are around the dinner table, a late night burger run or sharing a popcorn during a funny movie. If my body looks different because of these memories, so be it. Take care of yourself, however that looks like and don’t ever feel like you should be ashamed for your body changing.
4. It’s hard being a woman in an academic setting.
Whether in stem or arts, women are held to a double standard at school. We are told be the smartest. We have to prove ourselves over and over again to people and a system that think we don’t belong. They tell us that it’s not enough to just be equal to the men in the class, to prove anything we must be smarter, more strategic, more thoughtful and better communicators because if we aren’t, why not just get a man to do it. On the other hand, we are told to be quiet. Don’t interrupt or rile up the class. Be calm, take in the information you’re given and then go and be loud somewhere else. They tell us that questioning is unprofessional and rejecting ideas is ungrateful. I say, don’t apologize for how you learn. Raise your hand when you are confused, outsmart the man sitting next to you, change programs, graduate top or bottom of your class OR don’t graduate at all. No one else gets a say. Be proud to be a woman who can make her own decisions.
5. Find good friends.
There is an age-old expectation that you’ll find your person in university and it will be a happily ever after. I think a better goal is to find really good friends who make you feel happy and safe. I mean sure, go on dates, have a partner, just don’t forget to be young. This is a time to be independent and do what’s best for you. It is easy to get sidetracked by the narrative of the rest of our lives. Live in the now and have a sisterhood behind you.
I think the overarching lesson of my first year is to be true to yourself. And if you’re anything like me you’re probably frustrated that it took me 18 years to figure that one out. They teach you in school to be yourself, but I think being unapologetic about that is something we have to learn on our own time.
I hope you’ll follow along to read about my journeys through young adulthood, mental health and big life transitions.