Dear Class of 2019,

I had an experience the other day that forced me to think deeply about something that is of immediate importance to us all. I attended a holiday brunch, and my neighbor asked me: “Can you believe you finished your first semester of college?” My answer: “Not at all…I mean kinda yes?” My neighbor probably expected that as a college student I’d be a little more articulate, but as I spoke, that question struck me as surprisingly complex.

It’s a question that we all must consider. Whether or not we’ve realized it, we’re in an odd place. As winter break comes to a close, it’s notable that the last time we were away from campus for this long, many of us had only ever been there on a college visit. Yet, as we flock back to campus with the same magnitude of peers that we encountered on move-in day, we’ve got a full semester under our belt, and that’s significant.

In terms of what this means in regards to second semester, let me break down my disjointed answer to the not-so-simple question.

“Not at all”- This is my way of being in denial that I’m no longer totally new, because being new is great! Being new means we have an excuse when we mess up. I’m guilty of doing worse than I’d like on a paper and chalking it up to the fact that I’m a freshman and just adjusting. I’ve put off a reading or two until a little too late at night, and I absolved myself from any guilt due to the fact that I’m a freshman and just adjusting. We’re rookies, and we’re entitled to our rookie mistakes, right? Of course we are. My excuses, despite the fact that they were excuses, were perfectly valid in first semester. In fact, if we’d expected ourselves to be perfect, we almost certainly would’ve failed. Thus, it was incredibly convenient to hide behind the veil of being new.

“I mean kinda yes” – A few things uprooted me from my identity of still being very new. Most strikingly, I’ve made friends whom I feel like I’ve known for a lifetime. I’ve only known them for four months, but we have inside jokes and secrets and routine dinner times. Whereas most of us came to college not knowing many people, or with the goal of meeting new people, now we have surrounded ourselves with people we can trust and have lost that trademark characteristic of being new. Furthermore, we all know our way around campus, know what’s edible in the dining hall, have learned to live with roommates, have adjusted to showering in public, and have managed to do our own laundry without ruining our clothes. We can and should take pride in the fact that we have adapted to live semi-independent, highly social lifestyles.

First semester we learned a lot and gained a lot of new experiences. Second semester is when we get the chance to apply what we learned and gained. Therefore, we must set our standards higher, both in the classroom and outside of it. Yes, you heard me, both academically AND socially. We may feel like we know it all, primarily due to our newfound social prowess, but then we must admit that we are no longer the wide-eyed freshman staring at our first-ever professors. We’d do ourselves a disservice to remain rookies in the classroom, so as to retain the ability to make valid excuses, but consider ourselves pros at navigating our social scene. We cannot be selectively experienced. We’ve got lots of work to do, as well as tons of fun to have second semester. We’re prepared to handle it, and we must hold ourselves to that ever-rising standard.

Best of luck.

Note: this post originally appeared on Odyssey, and is reposted here with the author’s consent.

Related Links:
First-years to offer reflections about Campus Life
First-year Students