Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 24, 2020

How college has changed how I've viewed myself

By BRANDON WOLFE | December 5, 2019

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Aug. 11, 2016 was the first day I stepped on the Homewood Campus as a student. Like many 18-year-olds, I thought I had a good grasp on who I was and who I wanted to be, and I was so excited for what this new journey would bring me. I was coming to a top university to play football and to study to become a doctor. College was going to be the best years of my life, right?  

Well, that feeling lasted about a month for me. You see, I grew up incredibly attached to my family, and being from the Pittsburgh area — which is about a four-hour drive away from campus — I became quite homesick early on. The extroversion that had served me well in high school had been overtaken by a crippling feeling of intimidation and a lack of self-confidence, so friends were hard to come by. I began to feel incredibly alone and hopeless. 

That feeling was only multiplied when my first round of midterms came and knocked me down several, several pegs. To add insult to injury came an actual injury, when I sustained a concussion during a football practice in mid-October.  

At this point, I was completely and utterly lost. I was away from my family and having trouble making friends; I wasn’t doing well in my classes; and now with my concussion I couldn’t play football, study or even go to classes.  

When my concussion forced me to miss my first football game — an away game at Ursinus — I entered a dark place. A beautiful aspect of being on the football team is that you are immediately introduced to more than 80 other Hopkins students that you can relate to, but when all of your teammates are away and you know very few other people, Homewood becomes a very lonely campus.  

Spring semester brought more of the same struggles with homesickness, school and loneliness, and when I spoke to my friends at other schools who seemed to have everything figured out, I began looking at other options beyond Hopkins. I was desperate for something to change, and I figured that the best move I could make was to leave Hopkins. I started filling out applications for other schools, not telling anyone in my limited social circle of my struggles and continuing to try and put on a brave face.  

Mere clicks away from uprooting myself from Baltimore, it would be the late, great Jim Margraff who noticed me struggling and asked some of my teammates to sit down with me and make sure I was doing okay. It was a conversation I desperately needed, and it was the first time I had let myself be truly vulnerable since I came to campus. My teammates helped convince me that I needed to be more open and more willing to seek help, as they had gone through similar situations and overcome them. 

That was the first major change I had made. The second would come when I sat down and really evaluated whether I wanted to be a doctor. Throughout high school, I went back and forth on what I wanted to do with my life. There was a time that I wanted to be an engineer; there was a time that I wanted to be a physical therapist; there was a time that I wanted to be a teacher. However, one occupation that others kept recommending to me was pediatrician. They felt that, because I was smart and liked working with kids, being a pediatrician would be  perfect  for me, and that pushed me to make this my new dream.

What it took me so long to realize was that I wasn’t studying to become a doctor because I wanted to — I was doing it because everyone else thought I should — and that was reflected in my general disinterest and subpar performances in the classes I was taking. Once I realized this, I was able to look within myself and find what motivates me and where my interests lie, which is what led me to my new pursuit of public health and economics. 

I was no longer studying to become a doctor, but I was still able to play football, right? Well, not for much longer. It was in early September of my sophomore year that I suffered my third concussion, and, after consulting my doctor and my family, I had to hang up the cleats and stop playing. Within two years, I had changed my major, been forced to stop playing football and almost transferred schools. Not exactly how I imagined my first year and a half of college going, but it was also what I needed. 

I had to do a lot of soul searching to come to grips with a lot of change in my life, but what used to scare me became something that excited me. For the first time in several years, I was no longer just a football player who wanted to be a doctor, I was able to become someone else, and without the constant pressure of teachers or coaches back home, I was able to do become someone I wanted to be. 

I consulted my parents and my friends a lot during this transition period, but one thing that my family emphasized to me was to make sure that, whatever I decided to do, I did it for myself and nobody else. They knew that I had been trying to appease everyone else and that this next stage of my life would be something I needed to do on my own. 

Now here I am, a Public Health and Economics major who helps to coach football and I’m feeling the best I’ve felt. I talk to my friends and family from home frequently, but I’ve been able to break out of my shell and meet new people on campus. I’m not the same person that I was when I came to Hopkins on Aug. 11 in 2016, and that’s a good thing. 

I’m happier now. I feel more fulfilled now. I’m me now. Change can be something terrifying, or it can be something that allows you to find out who you really are, but you can only find out if you accept its inevitability and embrace it. It’s not the same for everyone. Maybe it’s a haircut or a change in perspective, but no matter what college — or life — brings you, be willing to embrace change and discover who you are. 

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