One thing I’ve learned the past three years in college is that it gets easier each year to leave.
The past few days, as summer began for the University of Arkansas (sorry to those of you still taking finals), I’ve seen an endless number of Facebook statuses and tweets about how depressed people are to be done with their current year in college. How sad they are to move on. “Where did this year/this semester/college go?” seems to be a common thought.
That’s because Fayetteville is a town that draws you in. The University of Arkansas campus makes you feel at home, safe, secure, and happy. You have all your friends, clubs, sororities, parties, teachers you love, volunteer opportunities, dining halls piled high with cookies…all right there within reach. I’m sure this is true about most college campuses and college towns. But Fayetteville has a charm unlike any other.
Freshman year, leaving is like prying you away from something you’ve glued yourself to. At least at the end of the year. When the homesickness has faded and all that is left is a deep love for your freshman year. You find yourself in May all of the sudden, realizing after your finals, your freshman year of college (by far the best year) has come to an end. And you refuse to believe it. You deny it, telling yourself you’re just going home for summer for a couple months, so things will be exactly the same when you return in the fall and there is nothing to worry about. It’s okay to admit it because I guarantee we all told ourselves that at some point.
Then you go home and all the sudden you’re back on campus as a sophomore. This is one of the hardest changes to deal with. You are still young enough to see all the new freshmen coming on board and living it up just like you had a few freaking months ago, but you’re not one of them. You’re older. And even though you’re actually only a few months older, you feel ancient. You almost resent the people younger than you for having what you want…freshman year all over again. And you also try to relive freshman year. This is by far the biggest mistake.
My advice is to just accept the fact that each year in college absolutely flies by. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be college. It would high school, or middle school – it would not be the amazing, best years of your life that we call college. Accept that you’re not a freshman anymore, and stop trying to relive it, before you miss out on everything about being a sophomore or junior. Each year has something special about it (especially junior year, when you and your friends turn 21) so find that special something and embrace it.
Once sophomore year ends, it’s a little bit easier for you to pack up and head home or to an internship you scored for the summer, with one last, sad look back at the campus you love.
Junior year is similar, just feeling further away from younger people and living further away from campus. Not having a dining hall to make you food and cookies everyday is quite an awakening. You learn to actually buy your own groceries, find a way to get your own lawn mowed, and fix problems around your own house. Little by little, you grow in your independence and in your self image.
See, that’s the bittersweet beauty of how college works (and I guess life in general). It seems so harsh and just plain mean that we are put into this perfect little world that is campus and Fayetteville, and we get so comfortable and happy and then are forced to move on. But if we weren’t forced to take these little steps to move on and grow up each year, we would never be ready for life on our own.We would always expect a washer and dryer provided. We would never learn how to cook and clean and iron clothes and make our own doctors appointments and live by ourselves, without someone in the twin bed next to you. It is scary and frustrating but also invigorating and exciting to see the world laid out before you, just requiring you to find the independence and discipline needed to take advantage of it.
Next fall, I am going to be returning as a senior. This concept is so strange to me. I would always look up to the seniors in my sorority freshman year and felt like they were so old. I do not feel like I am that old, I just can’t wrap my mind around it. And definitely can’t wrap my mind around the fact that freshmen will see me like that next year. I will come back and be in harder classes, will be working on my honors thesis I have to defend next spring before graduation. My biggest problem will change from buying outfits for pep rallies and functions to working on my resume and finding a real-world job. And I’m sure before I know it, graduation will be here and I’ll be tossing my hat up in the air with thousands of others wondering how they got there and where exactly college went.
But I know that it will be easier than ever to look at Old Main and Mullins and the Union and the Kappa Delta house with love and vow to never forget my memories here…but then to turn around, hop in my car and move on, to the next part of my life. Without even looking back. Because that is what leaving and moving on so many times has prepared me for. Not that it will not make me sad, because it will. Not that it will be a total breeze, because it will have its difficulties. But at least when that day comes, I won’t be in denial anymore about growing up.
Until that day, long live dining halls, long live carnivals at the Union, long live Razorback games in the student section, long live Fayettechill, hammocking at the Greek Theater, pulling all-nighters in the library, crazy Moses, Jimmy Johns til 3 a.m., Row Week…long live college.