You are not defined by your time in university

Illustration by Sammy Newman.

Brianna ScottOpinions Editor

I’ll cut to the chase. In exactly 38 days, I walk across a stage in a room full of strangers and loved ones to receive my diploma. My career as an undergraduate will be over, and I’ll be thrust into the ether of chaos that comes with being 22 and having no idea of what my future holds.

It’s no comfort that thousands of other college students can relate to the impending madness that will come in May.

People keep asking me how I feel, what my plans are and if I’m excited to get out of here.

To answer those questions: I feel numb. I have no plans. And I wish I could anchor myself to the Ram Horns outside of the Student Commons that I rubbed for good luck as an 18-year-old freshman.

As terrified as I am about entering a new phase in my life, I can’t help but look back on the last four years with too many regrets to count.

When I received my acceptance letter from VCU in the mail back in 2015, I was jumping up and down in the living room with my sister. My fingers flew over my phone keyboard, excitedly tweeting about officially being part of #VCU2019.

At the time, my dad and I hadn’t spoken in a few weeks despite living under the same roof. We just had one of our biggest arguments — and we don’t have many. Nervously showing my parents the letter, I barely looked my dad in the eye.

He cracked a smile.

As someone who had a relatively dull upbringing, I was ecstatic for college. To be independent, to be more social and to finally experience life. Full disclosure, I’ve had depression since the age of 11 — possibly younger. I tried desperately not to fool myself into thinking going off to college in a new city would cure my depression and turn my life around … but I did fool myself.

Big time.

Sitting on my bed in Brandt, my suitcase and boxes unpacked, I thought nothing could go wrong, that I would have no problems in college. But life never allows you the pleasure of being problem-free.

My problem, however, was me. My mind. I don’t want to write a memoir here, but to sum it up, I sabotaged everything good that came my way in college: friends, experiences, opportunities.

I could truly fill up a book with how much I have ruined in my life, how much good I ruined.

Most of my college experience has been me staring at the ceiling of my dorm room or whatever crappy apartment complex I was in. I’d get up for class — running terribly late — go to class, do my work and then come home. Rinse, wash and repeat.

The monotony of my routine made me incredibly gloomy and frustrated. I isolated myself for most of my college career because of my depression.

I didn’t know how to be a good friend to the small amount of friends I had. I didn’t know how to be a good student and actually comprehend and apply the material I was learning. I didn’t know how to be a good daughter or sister as my mental health deteriorated semester after semester.

I just didn’t … I still don’t know how to function properly when my mind is filled to the brim with bleak, erratic thoughts.

There are times I reflect on the past four years and I laugh — hard. Don’t get me wrong, there have been so many good times, they just don’t unfortunately outweigh the bad. My final year of college has arguably been my most stable and gratifying year.

Yet, I can’t say in good faith these were the best four years of my life. I wasted so much time in college being scared and bitter over how terribly my freshman year went that I never recovered and moved on.

Writing all of this, putting it to paper for hundreds of people to read, is scary. Because people tell you that college is the time you experience the most, you figure out what you want to do, you find your “tribe,” you find yourself. Our culture paints college to be the most formative and definitive years of your life.

I’m here to tell you it’s not.

College does not have to be the sole defining period of your life. These are not the only years you have to make something of yourself. There is an infinite number of people who did not have amazing college experiences — maybe you’re reading this right now as a freshman or senior coming to that realization that things in college haven’t been so stellar. You’re not a failure because of that.

Experiencing life doesn’t have an age limit. Some may say, “What’s better than this?” and to that I say everything. I refuse to believe I’ve run out of time to find myself and live a fulfilled life. Nobody is fulfilled at 22 years young.

We all have dark times in our lives, and sometimes those dark times are during what we believe should be the best times.

The next day isn’t guaranteed, but I have the rest of my life to do better for myself and make something out of myself. And I know that I will.

College was a learning experience, in and outside the classroom. I walked around with a devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear to give up. I never did, despite wanting to so badly.

In exactly 38 days, I walk across a stage in a room full of strangers and loved ones to receive my diploma.

It’ll truly be the first day of the rest of my life.

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