In college, the minutes of studying quickly roll into hours which just as quickly pile into mountains of time. Suddenly, four years–maybe five, no judgment–that at first seemed like an eternity are now coming to a halt, the end of an era, of being a student. With approximately sixteen years of schooling under your belt, you’re now a certified learner of things, vast and minor, important and trivial. So, you huddle in with your fellow university graduates dressed in ridiculous ceremonial garb and await your few moments of fame as you try not to stumble on that glorious stage. But once you proudly walk across that stage, humbly seize your diploma, and embrace your family’s congratulations, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve crossed the finish line: you’ve just earned a spot in the race.
A degree from college is not a destination; it’s a ticket to embark. As younger students, especially in high school, we grow weary of the bell schedules, the authoritative atmosphere that engulfs us, and the constant, unyielding amount of homework that never seems to be done. As a senior in high school, you spot a glimmering light at the end of the tunnel as you approach this new phase of dorm life, of boundless freedom. Though it is filled with new, exciting, remarkable adventures, college will serve as the final stepping stone in preparing you for what really lies at the end of the tunnel: the working world. Everything you learn and accomplish during your many years of student-hood will have been all for the sake of success in this “real” world.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t really understand that when I graduated from the University of Texas. Rather than blithely twirling across the stage on graduation day, I very nearly wanted to collapse at the feet of my dean as if I had just finished a triathlon while juggling fiery swords: I was exhausted, to put it lightly, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Any runner would have been able to tell me that I failed to set a good pace. “I’m just ready to be done,” I would emphatically whine as I casually gulped my Starbucks and studied for my umpteenth test that week. I had expended so much energy in college, seeking the college experience and worrying relentlessly about the end result, that I needed a recovery period.
But, as we all learn, there is no recovery period for simply living one day to the next. Rather, perspective is the heroine that saves us from ourselves, and I could have used a healthy dose of perspective. The perspective that the days spent on three hours of classes with twenty-one hours of free time was a luxury (oh, what a sweet luxury) not afforded to those in the working world. The perspective that, yes, college is a challenge, but it’s unbelievably manageable if you just do the work and focus less on the background noise.
As an undergrad, I typically encountered two types of students: those who nearly killed themselves in high school and were too burnt out by the time they reached college to show the same gumption, and those who were just getting started. The students who showed up to the freshman introductory courses with a frazzled, somewhat delirious grin after stopping at nothing to master high school were often too spent to give their full effort. So, they didn’t. They earned C’s while the late bloomers earned A’s, sought out research opportunities, and palled around with eccentric professors (the best kind). But, tragically, a little perspective could have saved those mediocre students and helped them continue to climb the hill that is education.
No matter how hard you have worked in high school, how insane you feel in the membrane as you inch closer to graduation, or how badly you just want to be done with school, do not quit. Don’t mentally resign yourself to simply getting by. As you head off to college, take this opportunity and fully involve yourself in it. When you waiver, use your highly educated brain to tell yourself, “I haven’t even begun,” because years of wonderful learning-through-experience still await you after college, if you’re up to it. The degree is your foundation, so what will you build with it?
– Nicole W.