As exams are underway, I've taken some time to look back on my freshman year of college, as many other students have, and I think sharing my experience may be helpful to those who will be leaving for college in a few months.
I hope my experience will offer some comfort, but not in the way a reflection will. Yes, I've grown as a person; yes, I've made great friends. I could go on and on with cliches about becoming independent and having the absolute best most positive experience of my life...but that would be a lie.
In all honesty, my freshman year wasn't the best most positive experience of my life; but, that doesn't mean I hated it, nor does it mean I hate my school. As someone who has always needed a lot of control and planning in life, I have really struggled since nothing turned out as I had planned in high school.
First, I think I should say I am not at my "dream school." I really struggled to figure out if I was making the right choice for college and there was a time where nothing seemed right. But that doesn't mean I haven't found happiness at Loyola. I feel comfortable, I've made great friends, I'm academically challenged but not overwhelmed, and I really feel confident in my choice of major.
But even with all these positives, I have had a lot of things happen that were not in my plan for the year. I flew home for fall break, which was a last minute decision, but something made me feel like I should go home. On the drive home from the airport, my dad told me that he had some bad news: my grandpa had passed away that morning. I was thankful to be home. I went back to school at the end of the weekend. I didn't get the chance to go to my grandpa's funeral, and his loss weighed heavily on me as I was separated from my family. This was certainly not an ideal situation, but I had to learn to handle it on my own with a little help from my friends.
As someone who was really involved in high school, I couldn't wait to join clubs in college. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly what I expected. Meeting times conflicted and I had to pick which clubs I really wanted to join (how can 4 different groups meet on Tuesdays at 7:30???) but I still managed to sign up for a couple I was really interested in. As luck would have it, only one actually met regularly (shout out to Take Back the Night!) and all the others stopped meeting after two weeks. I saw posters on campus asking for help with the tech crew for some plays, so I emailed the person in charge. They told me what they needed help with and that they'd contact me closer to when I needed to come to rehearsals. I never got that email. I finally applied to be an orientation leader/mentor (an Evergreen). It was the one thing I really wanted and I thought it would surely be the best way to get involved on campus since everything else was falling through. I thought I was a natural leader, I thought I nailed my interviews and my essays...but I was rejected. I was devastated. I had thought that was my calling and my one true shot at becoming an active member of the Loyola community and it was gone. I sat on the floor for an hour, sobbing to my mother over the phone. Who would I be now that I couldn't become the person I wanted to be?
I had to take some time to talk to a friend, and she made me feel more comfortable with the rejection. She also made me realize I needed time to reflect.
I tried signing up for a retreat, but it conflicted with the dance company spring showcase. The dance company was one of the only organizations that worked out for me. I am grateful for that weekend, since it really allowed me to become closer with some of my classmates. I am so thankful for the power of performing arts! But, when I wanted to look back on that performance and watch the video of the show, I discovered that my dance was one of two that were cut out of the filming. Just my luck.
Now I know you may be wondering, "what is the redeeming quality of this year if you've had all these issues?"
Well, I got involved in service. I tutor children in an after school program up the street and it never fails to brighten my day. Watching the kids grow over the course of the semester has really made me feel sure of wanting to become a teacher, and it has made me feel like I am truly fulfilling the Jesuit mission of being a woman for and with others. The kids have taught me to be more patient, more kind, more open, and more understanding. More importantly, the happiness they bring into my life has kept me from feeling hopeless despite all of my setbacks.
So my advice after looking back on a difficult year would be to find something that brings you fulfillment. Even when everything else around you seems to be going wrong, you will still have that one thing reminding you of what's important. Your year does not need to be perfect to be good; you need to accept the challenges even if you cannot immediately conquer them.