Realizing how I've grown since freshman year

By RUDY MALCOM | September 6, 2018

When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. (9)

Going back home after your freshman year of college can be pretty weird. This summer, I felt compelled to revert back to my pre-Hopkins self: a person who was less confident and more emotionally unstable — awkward, perpetually stressed out and overwhelmed by mundane events and interactions.

I felt like I had to erase the growth I’d experienced, so I could fit into the void I’d left in my circles of high school friends. 

I might be deflecting some responsibility here, but I think this was at least in part due to a good number of my home friends’ acting over the past few months as if the year they’d spent at college had been some sort of virtual reality. 

As if they’d enjoyed one long-ass drunken night at college and then blacked out. 

I hadn’t really kept in touch with some of my less close friends over the year, and I was anxious to see how they, like me, had changed. I was surprised to observe no evolution. 

They acted as if they were still trapped in high school, continuing to trash former members of our old friend group, slut-shame girls who were hooking up with their ex-boyfriends and stir the pot unnecessarily. 

I was now embroiled once more in the drama I thought I’d moved past. 

As they continuously shared their nasty opinions about practical strangers, I hardly ever spoke up. I wish I had more. But I feared being ostracized, so I confined myself to the role that I was used to. 

Other high school friends, with whom I have healthier relationships, would ask me why I continued to hang out with people whose presence upset me.

I would say that I liked everyone individually, but, in a group setting, they seemed to compete for attention by putting up facades that amplified their worst characteristics: spitefulness, narcissism and insensitivity.

I couldn’t get back into this herd mentality, though, because I hardly ever feel as though I have to stifle my voice at Hopkins, and I didn’t want to settle. 

I’d be lying if I said I was a retired gossip (the OG snake in the Adam and Eve story ain’t got nothin’ on me), but I never feel like I’m being spoken over or silenced at Hopkins.

As a result, my conversations on campus are almost always much deeper and more fulfilling. 

My Hopkins friends and I have, for example, debated the utility of labels and identity politics and discussed our vocational aspirations. 

We’ve learned from one another by expressing our authentic selves.

But perhaps most importantly, we’ve recognized that our lives didn’t stop after or peak in high school, even if we are no longer necessarily at the top of our class.

In November 2016, a few days after I was deferred from the University of Pennsylvania, my friend wore a Penn T-shirt to our Advanced Placement Chemistry class. The letters and coat of arms printed across her chest seemed to taunt me.

“Fuck you, Sarah!” I yelled.

In response to my embarrassingly public outburst, my teacher launched into a 10-minute speech about how seniors needed to calm down about the college admissions process. 

“You’re all so stressed about getting into top schools, but wouldn’t you rather stand out and be a big fish in a small pond?” he asked.

But I don’t mind being a small fish in a big pond; I actually quite enjoy being surrounded by like-minded individuals with whom I can connect with on deeper emotional and intellectual levels. 

Despite what stereotypes about Hopkins might suggest, being a small fish in a big pond hasn’t made me excessively competitive with others. 

It’s made me competitive with myself and pushed me to pursue my passions and challenge myself through coursework and extracurriculars. 

I applied to Hopkins two days before the Regular Decision deadline, on the same day that I started and finished my supplemental essay. 

Hopkins was the last school to which I applied, and that’s not because I disliked it; it just wasn’t my first choice.

But I am so thankful to have ended up a Blue Jay in this sacred nest. I’ve never been happier. 

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