A year ago today, August 20th, after a shaky and only slightly tearful goodbye to my sister and father, I got on a plane with my mother and flew to Oberlin for move-in and orientation. This year, I found myself returning for my second year at Oberlin on the exact same day. Certain aspects of attending Oberlin are poetic and cyclical, often in unexpected and pleasantly surprising ways. In my last few days before leaving Albuquerque, I found myself reflecting a lot about how much has occurred in the past full year and how much change has become my new reality. So many of the things I’m thinking and saying to others about college are enormous clichés, but people say the things they do about college for a reason, and that’s because they’re based in truth.
As a blogger, I get to be a member of the Class of 2022 Facebook page, meaning I see all the questions and introductions in the incoming class posts. Reading their queries—from “How do I get my mailroom number?” to “Why am I only registered for two classes?” to “What size fridge can I bring?”—brings me back to pre-Oberlin Ruth in a very visceral way. It’s as if I can feel the anxiety the new students are feeling emanating from my laptop screen. THEY ARE SO AFRAID. And I was too! I remember being so concerned and CONSUMED by every single tiny detail of my incipient college experience. How would I get my stuff from the mailroom? Would my mom and I be able to buy everything I needed without forgetting something important? Would I make friends? What would my advisor be like? Would orientation be socially awkward? What would it be like living with a roommate? Would I survive once my mom left? Et cetera, ad nauseam. Good lord, the conditionals! Too many “woulds”! No one needs the subjunctive THAT much. The days before leaving felt like a strange limbo (and still do): a strange and unsettling combination of excitement and dread, wanting desperately for something, ANYTHING, to happen.
When looking for a blank notebook the other day, I came across a solitary entry from 2015. I was then a sophomore in high school. Aside from a lot of ~angst~ about romantic love, friendships, and my inability to journal consistently (still an issue), there was a lot about change: how I craved it, and how I thought it was odd that I wanted it so badly. Here is an excerpt:
“I’m starting to dislike my long hair, I want to cut it so badly but I can’t because of dance. I just want change so much… I don’t know why I crave change. I’m not dissatisfied. I should hold on to these high school teenage years but instead all I seem to do is look forward to college so I can reinvent myself and be the me I want to be. But I am me! How can I be anyone else but me?... I don’t know why but I feel like I need to wait to change who I am. I’m not unhappy…I just have this other image in my head of who I want to be but I feel like it’s hard… Humans go through different iterations of themselves until they die and still I don’t know… I just want to be happy with myself and happy all AROUND.”
I feel empathy for my past self, for her frustration and her confusion. Clearly, I was unhappy or dissatisfied on some level, or I wouldn’t have written those words (though I do have mostly positive memories of my high school experience). Once I sift through all DRAMA, I realize that what 16-year-old Ruth wanted, she has, for the most part, gotten. And that’s largely if not completely due to my college experience. I am happier overall and I am cognizant of how fortunate I am to be able to attend a college that can help me become the best version of myself. But becoming that version involves a lot of change, something I used to fear drastically.
My relationship with change has evolved. I have gone from craving change (age 16), to fearing it (age 18), to being excited by it again (age almost-20). This year a lot of things are going to be different from my first year at Oberlin. I’ve joined a co-op, and I’m living in one too (What up, Tank!). I plan on declaring two majors. I’m teaching an ExCo again, but this time with a new co-instructor. I have a new job as a PAL to ensure that new students have as positive an experience as I did (stay tuned!). I am going to a campus inhabited by people whom I love, and one that is filled with many more that I could love (there’s that subjunctive again). Instead of worrying if I would have any friends (age 18, subjunctive), I’m thinking about which new friends I want to make once I get back (age almost-20, indicative).
College really is a transformative experience, or it has been for me. My wise younger sister said it best the other night: “I’m gonna miss you, but you’re so happy at Oberlin. You’re yourself, but like, MORE. You used to be Ruth in a shell but now you’re confident Ruth who smashed the shell into a million pieces.” I can’t deny that I’m nervous to get back to Oberlin, because a lot of things will be different this fall. But I’m also excited. I’m not as afraid to lean in to change as I once was. So far, college has led to me becoming a more confident version of myself, a version I appreciate more than I ever have. Now, isn’t that grand?
So: to any new students reading this, this might not help, but it is going to be just fine. If you're a member of the Class of 2022, or a new student anywhere, I salute you. Everything you're feeling is normal and valid. I know that change is terrifying, and college is a whole lot of that. But I know exactly how you feel, and you are not alone.
You got this.