As the fall semester commences, the laid back nature of “syllabus week” contradicts with the building anxiety for the rest of the semester. For seniors, it’s also a reminder that graduation is edging closer and that the best years of our lives are almost over. As I begin my final semester at USC, I can’t help but think back to those words and wonder if I can stand behind them: the best years of my life. College is an opportunity to utilize personal growth as a measurement for success.
It might be the fact that I’m an out-of-state student, but the combination of everyone around me telling me college was life’s high point and moving to sunny Southern California gave me inexplicably high expectations before my freshman year. As much as I tried to fight it, I allowed the fantasies of what college was like in the movies to take over my image of what the next four years of my life would be like: all-nighters, fraternity parties, movie nights with people who would become my “lifelong friends,” stories I’d keep from my children and endless trips to the beach. I believed that college was my gateway to freedom but soon realized that the majority of the time you are living through someone else’s vision. I felt obligated to alter who I was to please everyone. I spent my freshman year agreeing with everything and allowing others to fall back on me at their convenience, even when it inconvenienced me, so I could maintain my reputation as a “chill girl.” On top of this, I displayed my best acting on breaks back home ,convincing my friends that my college social life was off the charts and bearing the interrogations from family members about what I wanted to do when I graduated. During my sophomore year, I chose my emotional stability over society’s image of success.
While having a fresh start can be exciting and a chance to reinvent yourself, it can also be terrifying. The immediate question you’re faced with each year is, “Where am I going to fit in?” You’re exposed to so many choices, but what you fail to tell others is that freedom of choice lies outside of classes you want to take and clubs, organizations or houses you want to join. Freedom of choice also means breaking out of high school habits and the idea that you have to “fit in” to survive. It invites the opportunity to become more open to new things and to act on your own interests.
No one wants to become an adult because of all of the responsibility that comes with it, but one perk of being an adult is the opportunity to take charge of your own life. You don’t have to be friends with people you don’t like. You can binge-watch Netflix. You can say “no” or “yes” and are not obligated to explain anything to anyone but yourself. You also find out that not everyone has the same mind or heart that you do. You will find yourself disappointed. You will find yourself discouraged. You will find yourself lonely. And that’s okay because you also have the choice to change those aspects of your life. It’s always easier said than done, but it’s better to know there are always alternatives than to make the mistake and assume “that’s just how things are supposed to be.”
It’s a different age, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in fulfilling that fantasy of college life, especially when we’re constantly aiming to post the perfect Instagram picture or share something that gets a lot of likes on Facebook. On a day when we’re feeling down, pictures on social media become how we measure our lives. We all think about it at some point or another, whether we want to admit it or not, but we cannot let these things become a daily mental battle. It sounds childish to some, but this is a reality. We all want to feel seen and appreciated and there are various ways people choose to go about doing this. The territory becomes dangerous, however, when we start making our decisions based on how it will appeal to others.
As a senior, the most important decision I made in my college career was to take control of my life in the face of what everyone else wanted for me. I let go of a lot of toxic friendships, I began to explore spheres in which I could utilize my voice, I started meditating and journaling my experiences to relieve stress and, most importantly, I decided that I was OK with not knowing what I want to do after I graduate. I knew that I wanted to look back on college as a good experience and for that to come true, I needed to be a participant in my own journey. Though I wouldn’t change anything that has happened to me in these four years, I know that I would have loved to have someone tell me that things aren’t always going to be OK, but that doesn’t make me abnormal. Now, I aim to use this space to encourage others to find their own path, regardless of their circumstances, and to know that in whatever they’re experiencing, they don’t have to be alone. The people we keep in our social circles just want the best for us, but sometimes you just have to say, “I’m doing this for me.” So, these four years go by quickly and they’re the best of your life . . . If you make them.
Alexa Edwards is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “In the Meantime,” runs every other Tuesday.