As I’m approaching the hiatus from my fourth year at the University, like all other seniors, I’ve learned more about things I hadn’t even considered even three years ago. I’ve cooled down and stopped worrying about everything, which makes menopause even more exciting. My 18-year-old personality was a shadow of my current self. And there’s no way I could have sped up that growth — there’s no substitute for time. But if I could have told myself anything the day I moved into my Superblock dorm room, it’s the following. Maybe it’s something that’s been rumbling around in your head, too, and you might have more time to implement than me.
Something that spooks a lot of people their first year is which major to choose. A lot of work and one major later, I can now swear to you that it doesn’t really matter. If you’re not entirely sure, just go with something that’s in the general vicinity of what you think you want to do. Then find the project that drives you with a passion that school won’t deliver. That’s your baby. What matters astronomically more than any coursework you do is what you do with your time outside of it. And your baby is your extracurricular first priority. I know we have Netflix and Instagram and parties in Como, but we can’t forget that even the U’s most martyred chemical engineering students have time for that top priority. It could be entirely unrelated to your major. It could be related in its premise, but the work you do is unrelated. It doesn’t matter. Find the project you love to support, then if the gods smiled on you, you’ll have both a degree and practical experience that draw out the strengths you dreamed of having.
I’ve learned that some people are school people, and some people are not. If you’re not a school person, you’ll be just as valuable in the working world. Especially because you’ve found the extracurricular fire that drives you further than school did.
Most lessons I learned, however, were completely social. The first was that people are different. Consciously, we know that. But without meaning to, we usually expect people to have the same social norms, expectations of community and terms of friendship that we had where we grow up. It takes a few blows to the head for us to realize that people are, indeed, different. Be appropriately open-minded in your friendships. And remember that in a dorm, the sample size is small. Extra credit if you join student groups that scare you and meet all kinds of students and non-students who open up your world even more.
As my mother says, happiness is your relationships with other people. She’s right a lot. Take care of those relationships. First, be kind. Always and forever. If you did something you can’t hold your head high about, there are two steps. Apologize sincerely, then honestly address the problem in your own head that caused you to do the bad thing in the first place. If that means talking it out in a difficult conversation, believe me when I tell you, that is a life skill that most people hobble through without. But on the other hand, if someone is your friend but keeps doing things that feel more not-your-friend, it’s okay if one day the other shoe drops. You can always forgive people, and you should. But everyone retains the right to choose their friends, and if they don't remain courteous and polite, un-choose them.
Second, romantic relationships are a little different than normal friendships, as we all know, and the quality-over-quantity rule applies much more heavily. If someone was interested in the past, but no longer is, it is so not cool to keep hounding in some new, creative way once every few months for about four years. And for consensual situations, go on as many first dates as you want, but please don’t have sex if you don’t feel wholly safe and secure having sex. I’ve seen too many compounding insecurities because of that. If you want commitment, commit, and expect commitment in return. Don’t be afraid to respect your own time and decline people who prove they can’t give what they get. Every single relationship matters and shapes you. And slowly, eventually, you will become the person you want to be and know who the person you want to have is. This process takes much longer than a four-year degree. And that’s totally cool. Learn from the way you found yourself acting in past relationships. Figure out why you snapped that one time when everyone else was playing very spirited charades in the other room. It’s okay to have to reroute your emotions, and it all matters!
And lastly, respond to emails and texts. Please.