Story by: Jayden Jones, Columnist
Photo courtesy of aesthetecurator.com
It’s an interesting experience, talking to a high school senior. By interesting, I mean cringe-worthy. My least favorite thing about conversing with them isn’t how strongly they evoke memories of my own high school experience or how much they remind me of how awkward I was when I was in high school. It’s when I hear myself saying the words that, as a high school senior, I hated above all others: “So where are you going to college?”
When I arrived at Aquinas just over a year ago, I was a disaster. Overwhelmed, anxious, homesick, hopeful and full of expectation, I was ready for the beginning of the “best four years of my life”. Looking back, I see that was my first mistake. I’d seen the Pinterest-perfect dorm rooms, the Instagram posts with the gushing captions and the photos of ridiculously happy girls sitting on a bunk bed with their arms around each other. I’d seen the movies, I’d heard all the glory stories from my grandparents, from random family friends, even from my own friends who were already over halfway through their college experiences. I expected my time in college to be a perfect synthesis of everything I’d heard and seen. On the first day of school, I put on the outfit I’d picked out the night before and pushed away my apprehension. This was going to be the start of something great.
Needless to say, I had a miserable first year. Between the seasonal depression, the emotional upheaval of moving seventeen hours away from home and the sheer sense of loneliness and isolation, strongest in me was a feeling of dissatisfaction. As I left Regina, jamming my headphones into my ears, walking to Albertus in the pouring rain, I thought to myself, over and over again— This is not what college was supposed to be like. To make matters worse, every night I’d check my Instagram feed and see pictures of my high school friends in new places, with new friends. And they looked happy. I didn’t understand. To be honest, I felt ashamed. What was wrong with me, if everyone else I knew seemed to have adjusted to college life with no trouble whatsoever? The first few times I visited home, I lied when people asked me how school was going. “Oh, it’s going really great. Yeah, I love it there.” I’m not sure I ended up fooling anyone.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the reality that my college experience wasn’t going to be the idealized dream I’d expected it to be. I still wouldn’t say that I’ve fully come to terms with it. There are days when I wake up and I want to submit an application to Franciscan or Colorado State. But, I’ve realized that those impulses of discontent are driven by more than just my stubborn determination to make my life into a Pinterest board. I’m seeking more than just a perfect experience or a string of glowing memories. I’m seeking true happiness. More than true happiness, I’m seeking joy. I think we all are. Because we’re passionate young people, and we don’t want a dreary life of mediocrity.
We can’t assume, however, that this happiness we’re seeking will be determined by outside factors like our college experience or our chosen major. The fact of the matter is, happiness is a choice. It’s asking for help when you need it. It’s pursuing experiences that push you outside of yourself. It’s choosing to think of someone else’s needs before your own, doing your roommate’s dishes, getting coffee with someone who’s struggling or suffering.
Think about it. If college really is “the best four years of our lives” what does life after school have in store for us? Shouldn’t we be seeking more? Shouldn’t we be chasing greater things? The thing about joy is that it can only be found when we choose someone else’s good over our own. The unfortunate thing about choosing someone else’s good over our own is that it’s radically countercultural. Let’s be honest, making the effort to do your roommate’s dishes, reach out to someone who’s suffering or take time out of your scheduled Netflix binge to make conversation with someone on your floor you’ve never spoken to before isn’t exactly the most attractive at times.
This lifestyle of selflessness doesn’t mean that you’ll be happy all the time. Because that’s not real life. That’s not human. There are a lot of factors in our lives that are out of our control. We didn’t get to choose our mental illness, or our difficult family or financial situation, our torn ACL. But we can’t give up hope. We can’t despair. Basically, we can’t have the mindset of first-year me, whose motto was essentially “Everything is always going to be awful and there’s nothing I could possibly do to change it.”
This experience, this time in our lives is what we make of it. You may be dissatisfied, you may be unhappy, you may be lonely, and that’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with that. The real crime, though, is going through these four years without trying to find that true happiness that we’re all seeking. That real crime is pretending that we’re happy when, on the inside, we’re everything but. Be authentic with your classmates, with your campus, with your friends. At Aquinas, we are blessed to have a very small campus. That means that as you’re walking to Wege, there’s at least a 75% chance you will know the people you pass by. Smile at them! I know it’s a cliche, but often we use the fact that something is a cliche as an excuse to dismiss it. Don’t dismiss the chances you have in these four years to be kind!
These four years may not be everything that everyone made it out to be. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fruitful, challenging, and worthwhile. This time is what you make it, Saints.