Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What I really learned from college

I miss college so much right now.

Everyone said the weirdness of graduating would be worst when August came back around. And it's true. Today, as so many of my friends welcomed the beginning of classes and the return of college, I said the final goodbye to college. It's final. This isn't just a summer job, despite my growing restlessness, which I'm conditioned to feel after sticking with something for two or three months. I'm not going home. Welcome to the world, they say.

I miss the excitement of new things. I miss the overwhelming options of activities and causes to get involved in. I miss the endless energy of freshmen and their willingness to follow you wherever you lead. I miss the openness to friendship that comes when you throw a bunch of same-aged people into a new place. I miss living in a community where it's acceptable to knock on your neighbor's door and ask if they have chocolate chips because you ran out, and you desperately need your college-kid-Reese's-fix (Ritz crackers, peanut butter and chocolate chips). I miss running out for food at 12:50 because Alpine Bagel closes at 1 a.m. and for no good reason, you're still up and inexplicably hungry. I miss sharing almost every meal with a friend, or 15.

I miss the mentoring relationships naturally created by the hierarchy of upperclassmen and underclassmen -- that ability to look up to those who have gone before, and then to pay it forward in your turn.

I miss being in a community that felt called to minister to and serve the community it lived in and was surrounded by.

I miss the driving passion that leads students to start term papers at 3 in the morning, not primarily because they are lazy or procrastinators, but because they've spent every waking hour of their day til that point giving to others, be it working to raise money to build schools in Africa, to comfort and provide for children and families in the hospital, or helping to make a freshman's transition into college that much easier.

I miss the live-it-up mindset that leads every senior to craft a bucket list to make sure they don't miss one ounce of the essential Carolina and/or college experience.

And it seems a crime to leave all that behind. With so many things in my life changing with my 500-mile move to Ohio, where I knew no one, I've started to ask myself, why does everything have to change, just because my life is no longer mostly contained in the 729-acre campus bursting with the enthusiasm of 18,000 undergrads?

After approximately two months of off and on moping, crying myself to sleep, and doggedly following on social media my friends who are lucky enough to have one, two or three more years of college, I have resolved to defy the conventional wisdom that all those advantages of college have to end when you zip up your gown, don your cap and smile for that photo by the Old Well.

So here's what I really learned from college, which I am doing my best to apply to life in a slowly recovering, midwest industrial city:

1. Life is about relationships, and you can't afford to discriminate.
Who says a neighborhood street has to be any different than a dorm hall?

Your hall mates were party animals? Who cared! It was part of the college experience, and you invited them over when you got that midnight craving that only a bowl of popcorn and She's the Man could satisfy.

My next door neighbor drinks and listens to loud music on his front porch?? I'll grab a beer and go join him.

When I run out of chocolate chips, before I run down to Krogetto I'll knock on doors and see who has any to spare in hopes we can share the treat and a conversation. If I make too many cookies, I'll deliver them to whoever is home.

Instead of ignoring the baggy-pantsed boy with the cell phone glued to his ear who walks past the house at least five times a week, I'm going to get to know his name, and take him up on that offer to play disc golf.

I'm going to find the broken and hurting people in my neighborhood and give them the love I've been given so freely.

2. Life is about making every second count.

When presented with the options of sleep or adventure, I'm going to choose adventure. Midnight meteor showers? Heck yes. 2 a.m. Waffle House runs? Skinny dipping? 24-hour frisbee tournament? I'm down.

Forget the senior bucket list, I'm working on a Dayton bucket list. Who knows how long I'll be here? When I leave I wanna say I got my time's worth.

3. Life is about pursuing your passions.

Although my butt still has to warm a desk chair for the better part of my daily 9 to 5, I'm going to find something here that I'm passionate about, and plug the quarters into my idea-machine-brain, pouring all my spare time and energy into leaving this place better than I found it.

4. Life is about influencing others.

There may not be any underclassmen asking where's the bathroom, who are the easy A teachers, what's your advice for senior year, or is it true there's a haunted castle on campus? But there are definitely people who can learn from me and will follow me, if I'll stand up and lead. So I'll tutor, and I'll invest in every relationship, and I'll find the hidden treasures the native Daytonians don't even know about.

I've heard the phrase "freshman at life" in jest before, but I'm in earnest. I want to approach life in Dayton with the same energy and excitement of a college freshman, and everything that comes along with that. Who's with me? Cuz I'm just getting started.

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