They say that when you find the right college, when you step on campus, you just know. It just feels right. When I first came to Etown, I felt the exact opposite of that. I took in the Dell, the lake, the bright-eyed first-years standing with me and thought “Wow, I’m making a huge mistake.” I guess it just goes to show, sometimes your instincts are totally right. I was miserable throughout college and more or less hated the entire thing.
I made the best friends I had in college before classes even started. During orientation, I distinctly remember meeting my friend Dalton on that Friday. He was sitting in the Blue Bean talking to someone. My brother Sven and I took one look at him and said to each other “Hey, that ugly guy is chatting up that chick. Let’s go stop that.” And we did. We just acted like ourselves until she made her excuses and left (give us a break, we were first-years), but for whatever reason, Dalton hung around. The three of us just shot the breeze for a few hours about whatever we imagined was interesting and original, and more or less became fast friends.
On Saturday night, at the Root Beer Luau, Sven met his future girlfriend Melanie. I still have warm memories of all the nice people I met just waiting around on campus until 2 a.m., night after night, for him to wander back from her dorm. We were commuters, so I needed to wait for him to go home. Naturally, things were rough between Melanie and me for a little, since I resented her for keeping me up late, but by the end of the first semester, she, Dalton, Sven and I were all fast friends.
To round off the group was Andrew, my best friend from preschool. We had no intention of going to the same college, and were pretty surprised to see one another on the first-year roster.
Even in our first year, everyone but me had decided on a major, and no one but me has, to this day, gone through a change of major. Dalton as legal studies or whatever, Melanie in psychology, Sven with philosophy, Andrew repping computer science and me, the undecided major – leaning towards English literature.
My spring semester, I took a lit class to get the ball rolling on that, and I also took Computer Science I, since it counted as a math core back then. The rest, as they say, is history. I enjoyed the class a lot, at least in part because I had a great professor, and ended up majoring in CS with a minor in English. The class was far from my only reason for choosing computer science, but it solidified the choice. I also acted in a few plays my freshman year, which seemed important at the time, but looking back, it was more of a footnote. I just wanted to try new things, and I learned that theatre was fun for some people but not me.
Despite my new friends and new major, I was still mostly miserable. Honestly, I don’t even really recall why. Not enough friends. I wasn’t interested in my classes. Ennui. Not getting enough sleep. Whatever, it’s all the same thing. I never know if I’m sad, tired or hungry. I think I was just mostly still sad about childhood coming to an end.
My sophomore year, I met the person who would go on to become my partner for most group projects and assignments in our major, of which there were many. We didn’t talk much at first, but she was introverted like me, misanthropic like me and started her CS major a semester late like me, so it made sense to work together. We get along, and our working relationship over the years was nothing short of fantastic, but we never became that close outside of class. It’s not my biggest regret in college, but it’s in the top five for sure.
That year, I’d made up my mind to either transfer schools or drop out. I don’t know how, but one day, I ended up talking to Dalton about it, just the two of us. He told me I shouldn’t drop out because my grades were good and that I could transfer if I wanted to. We talked about it for a while, and eventually he told me that it was my life, but he would prefer if I didn’t transfer, because my friends would miss me, or at least he would. The thing is, we were all friends, but we all looked up to Dalton. He was everything I wasn’t: I came into college at only 17, my first experience in a place so big, I am aware of the irony, introverted and awkward and very naive about the world. Our freshman year, Dalton was 20 or 21. He had a hard life and knew a lot about the world and people. He was charismatic and outgoing. So when he told me I should stay, I listened, not because of the school itself, but because it meant a lot to me that he felt that way. That night, it seemed like that if I had my friends, things wouldn’t turn out so bad.
By the end of the year, Dalton dropped out and became a card dealer at some casino in Pittsburgh.
Junior year was a bit of a turn. I started enjoying college a lot more. I had friends who I did things with, felt like I was learning a lot in my classes and starting to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. What I liked in computer science, what I wanted to do with it and even about grad school. The irony is that despite the better environment, I was even more bitter and angry than ever before. I had new friends, but I thought they were terrible people, and hanging out with them made me feel bad. I knew what I liked academically but knew I couldn’t hack it. I had more good things going for me, but less optimism, less time for things to get better and less of my future ahead of me.
Senior year, things were better in most ways. My college experience has had an upward trend, I guess. A lot of the improvement happened over the summer. I took some time to think about life and figure things out. My relationship with my dad was always good, but we’d grown apart a little over my college years, and I made strides in fixing that. I finally got over that girl from high school and made a lot of progress in accepting myself and others for what they were. I didn’t magically transform into a happy or nice person, and to this day I’m bitter and angry at the world for not being the way it should be, but I learned to find some measure of inner peace.
Fall semester senior year, I focused on nothing but Calc II. I worked hard in that course, because I needed to pass it, and I’m pretty terrible at school, really. And I know most would disagree, but I wouldn’t include it if I didn’t think it was important: if you can, take Calc II. It’s one of the best classes I’ve ever had. Calc I looks better on paper — you learn limits, and then derivative, then integration and then it’s all wrapped up neatly with the fundamental theorem of calculus. Calc II is a hodge-podge of random topics that don’t fit together that well. But Calc II got into the kind of math that wasn’t just an academic exercise; it revealed something deep and true about the world that Calc I just didn’t. It was difficult and miserable, but it was one of the best classes at this school.
This semester has been pretty stressful in its own ways. My schedule is difficult, but also I’ve been trying to wrap things up properly with all of my friends and relationships. In short, I’ve been caught between wanting to hold onto people as long as I can and wanting to push them away so we can break things off neatly. It’s had high-highs and low-lows, I’d say.
Overall, I didn’t expect much from college. A lot of it was my fault, of course. I came in with low expectations, no social skills and so much hatred that it makes me ashamed. Things didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted them to be. I didn’t make the right friends, didn’t go to graduate school and totally blew it with the one girl I really liked. But in the end, I did get a lot out of it. A lot of it was the people. That professor who got me into CS has gone on to become one of my best friends. Even the friends I didn’t like did a lot for me. They may be my enemies, but we have a certain bond of people who suffered together. Sure, I have a lot of regrets — people I wronged, people who wronged me, but hey, it’s college. No sense crying over spilled beer.
Ultimately my expectations and disappointments with college don’t matter, because what I got out of it had nothing to do with what I expected. I got people, friends, enemies, life lessons and all sorts of things it’s hard to describe or touch. One of my friends told me that he didn’t know how or when it happened, but somewhere along the way, he lost the ability to talk to strangers on the Internet and gained the ability to talk to strangers in real life. It really resonated with me because I felt the same way: nothing seemed that different, but along the way I’d gone from a sad, lonely 17 year old to something resembling a real person.
No matter who you are and how bad you think you have it, even if you hate every day of school, I’m sure that some day you’ll look back and realize that it was all worth it. You’ll miss it all, the good and the bad stuff. I got into computer science ultimately because I wanted to make video games, so I’m going to try to combine my passions in life. After college, I’m going to pursue my dream of making feminist video games. That’s not too far off from where I started four years ago, but I would have never been able to do it without everything that happened in between. My good friendships may or may not stand up to time, and it’s probably too late to salvage the ones that didn’t quite work out. But I’m leaving that behind me. It doesn’t matter if you like me, hate me or just never really cared about me anyway. I just hope that someday, you play one of my games.