This past Sunday I graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Writing (creative concentration) and a minor in Psychology. Though I still haven’t moved out of my apartment in Ithaca, and a few of my good friends are still in town, the reality of the situation is starting to hit me: It’s time to move on. But Ithaca College is the first place where I really felt that I was able to be myself and truly start to shape my own life.
Before I move on to the next phase of my life (attending graduate school in Niagara for Mental Health Counseling), I am taking some time to reflect on how the past four years in Ithaca have changed me. I know I’m not the same person as that wide-eyed, terrified freshman who moved all of her stuff into her first dorm room in 2008. But what has really made me different? I thought I’d share with you some of the important positive life lessons that I have learned from my time in college.
- There are some genuinely good people in the world. When I first came to college, I had a fairly pessimistic view of people. I had a pretty rough time in high school, and had some abnormally negative life experiences as a child. I had a lot of trouble making friends prior to college, because I did not feel that I could trust people. And I am naturally a very trusting person, so once I open that door I tend to let people in all the way. College taught me that it’s ok to trust people. Yes, sometimes you will get hurt. Sometimes you’ll get hurt a lot. But you’ll also find the most important people. If you don’t trust anyone, you’ll never know who you’re missing out on. And there really are people who want to help others and don’t want to hurt anybody. You’ll find them eventually.
- You don’t have to be afraid of who you are. Everybody is unique and has his or her own story to tell. If you stick to what you believe is right and follow your heart, you will find people who will appreciate you for exactly who you are. You may feel alone at times, but there are always countless other people who are feeling alone too. There are also others who do not feel alone but will want to be there for you, once they get to know you.
- It’s ok to make mistakes. Everybody has regrets… things you wish you had or had not done. But in general—especially if your intentions are good—there is no mistake you can’t come back from. The people who really love you will forgive you. And making mistakes can tell you a lot about yourself. What caused you to do what you did? Or why didn’t you do something when you really wish you had?
- It’s ok to fail. Coming into college, I had never “failed” anything. Then within my first semester I failed my driver’s test and a paper that I had written. I felt (and still feel) that both failures were unwarranted. A student TA failed my paper, and the professor admitted that I did not deserve the grade that I had gotten, but her policy was that she wouldn’t change the TA’s grade. And everyone who fails their driver’s test always thinks it’s unfair, right? But, even though neither of the failures were justified in my mind, I took them very hard and viewed myself negatively for them. I really struggled with it, but once I got over the fact that I couldn’t change what had happened I felt much better. I was motivated to do even better in the future so that if I failed anything again, I would have done everything I could to prevent it from negatively affecting me. And now I look back, and neither of those failures really means much of anything to me. I still got almost straight As in my 4 years, and so my GPA was not overly affected. And I got my license the second time around. Failing something does not mean you are worthless as a person… which is a concept that I wish I had understood as a freshman.
- When things look bleak, they will always—ALWAYS—get better again eventually. This one is still something that I have to constantly re-convince myself of. But I do believe it to be true. This has been proven to me time and time again. I have seen some of my darkest times ever in college, and they always get better. Last semester I was in a situation that was extremely negative after facing an emotionally traumatic event. And then it got worse. And then it got even worse. In fact, it continually got worse for several months, and it got harder and harder for me to see any possibility of things turning around. I was more hopeless than I had ever been in my life, and really thinking that everything good was gone for me. But some little tiny part of me never stopped believing that things would get better, and so I decided to push through and keep moving forward, even though if things kept going the way they were going they would only get worse. But here I am now. And I can definitely say that things have gotten much better for me over the past few months. I still struggle with some aftermath of my negative situation, and I am constantly keeping myself in check, but I am so much better. And I didn’t think it was possible. Life is a cycle. It will always get tough again, but it will always get easier again too. And I like to think that if we hang on long enough, the roller coaster will slow down and we will just be able to level out a bit someday.
- Stress is inevitable, but not unchangeable. Let’s face it. If you’re the type of person who works hard and has hefty goals in life, you are almost definitely in for a lot of stress and anxiety throughout your life. But that doesn’t mean that it has to rule your life. Stress can be managed and decreased if you pay attention to how you live your life and take care of yourself. Certain amounts of stress can also be helpful and push you to do better than you might without it. And hopefully, the work that you are doing will be important enough that it will be worth whatever amount of stress you take on in your life. Just don’t forget to relax and take time for yourself. Take the stress as an indicator that will let you know when you’re really doing too much. You can get through it in healthy ways.
I have learned an endless amount of lessons from college. Some negative, but many positive. I definitely think that I am stronger, more independent, and generally happier than I was when I was 18 years old and fresh out of high school. I will continue to share more of the life lessons that Ithaca College has taught me, as they are relevant and appropriate. In the meantime, I would just ask you to look back on the last few years of your life. How have you changed and why? What has positively influenced your way of thinking or behaving? Which changes are you most proud of?
I will always love Ithaca, and I know I will miss it for a long time to come, but I am excited to see what I will find in the years to come. Who will I meet and how will my life perspective change? I am looking forward to finding out.