Though the days have been slipping by for some time, today I realized that I have five days of classes and 25 days on Homewood campus remaining in my Hopkins tenure. My once-in-a-lifetime college experience is ending.
I’m not sad. It’s been a long four years, and I’m ready to get into the world and shed the “student” label — but I’m certainly not rushing to the door.
“College was the best four years of my life.” I feel like I’ve heard that phrase hundreds of times. The next time I do, I’ll feel sad for the speaker.
College is a time of significant growth, as children grow into adults and figure out who they want to be going forward. It is a time for unfettered exploration and experience, where no one is watching or judging. It may feel that way sometimes, due to societal pressures and stereotypes, but at the end of the day, college students have agency afforded to few others.
Next year, I won’t be able to casually go to the gym at 1 p.m. on a weekday. I won’t be able to sleep in every day, seven days in a row. My daily work will not be something I personally selected based on preference (if you have ever taken courses you didn’t want to, I ask why). And most importantly I won’t be surrounded by friends 24/7.
The simple concentration of like-minded peers of your age group is the most underrated aspect of college. We refer to the grind of school, but most students spend just as much time hanging out with friends as they do on school-work. The grind of the professional life is different. Days get filled with non-negotiable hours that push other necessities — shopping, exercise, housekeeping — to the early morning or evening. Distance and busy schedules limit visiting with friends, who no longer live upstairs or down the hall.
Never again will I have the chance to indulge in deep inquiry of minutiae across a range of subjects in such quantity. I doubt my close reading of Robinson Crusoe will ever be repeated. Same goes for calculating astronomical distances with a Nobel Prize laureate. And “gargoyling.” I will probably never do that again.
It is a fantastic luxury to have a free, upscale gym just a few minutes’ walk away and to have access to online resources like Lynda and JSTOR. Every day, Homewood campus features lectures and presentations and screenings, entertainment brought to our doorsteps without any effort on our part. That isn’t going to be the case next year.
And yet I’m not sad. If the last four years were the best years of my life, I will be very depressed and have a midlife crisis where I bleach my hair and move to Vietnam. I have had a wonderful time in college, but I aim to have an even better life every day. I will look back and be proud of my accomplishments and friendships. But I won’t hold them up as a golden icon of bygone days. I won’t continually compare backwards, unable to let go of freedom and youth.
For many people, college is the principle source of friendship in life; I am not one of them. I came to school with a solid and large group of friends and, while I love my friends at Hopkins and look forward to moving into a new phase together, I am realistic about their place in my life. How many people that I met here will I really be in touch with 5 years down the line?
And while I know that they are the minority and still exist in the outside world, I can’t wipe the memory of some truly shameful people I’ve met here: people who expressed intensely hateful views and who physically or psychologically intimidated others; people who brown-nosed and power tripped and objectified; people whose carelessness or inability to take responsibility hurt me.
I love what Hopkins stands for, and the academic program has been all it’s hyped up to be. But the Homewood culture runs counter to many of my personal values: flexibility, safety, merit and humility. How is it that one student gets busted with a garbage bag of pot and gets a talking to, while another gets caught with a small joint and gets suspended? Why does a student who physically assaults another, a crime that would result in a fine or worse in “the real world,” simply get a warning here? Have there really been zero rapes during my time at Hopkins? And seriously, can everyone just wake up and realize that not being Harvard or Princeton is a good thing?
My mission for college was to learn as much as I possibly could and to never say no. I believe I accomplished those goals, though am still learning how to live an affirmative life all the time. I sincerely thank all of the people who have given me a smile or a handshake, all those who have served as mentors and mentees and have shared a strong brew and a hearty laugh. As life goes on, we must remember that we aren’t alone, that there are others out there who care about us and wish us well. If we were friends at Hopkins, I won’t forget that.
The best years of my life have not yet passed. But, as four memorable years full of growth and joy come to a close, I can say that whenever those years roll around, they will be pretty darn great.