One Year In: Looking Back on Freshman Year

I’m a sophomore. More or less I’m a freshman plus one summer at home.

My friends and I have barely gotten over the fact that our old high school teachers have gone through a full year without us. Can we really be expected to comprehend that our first college rooms are now being lived in by a new set of freshmen?

What I mean to say is that there’s not all that much distance between your present experiences and ours. We were in your position what seems like yesterday, and, paradoxically, a very long time ago. The changes that accompany freshman year are numerous and profound, but vague enough that I can’t quite pick them out. Let me try to explain one.

Last year, about this time, during some orientation presentation, I found myself watching one of the staff members or leaders or whoever screw up. It was just one moment, but at the time I’d been feeling some doubt and uneasiness about being away from home (I’m from Chicagoland) and starting out at the college I’d dreamed about for months. And I thought a thought that hasn’t left my mind since: everybody, from the guy sweeping the stairs to the gal at the very tip top, once felt and probably frequently still feels muddled by self-doubt. It’s a corollary to the promise that we can be whoever we want to be, that everyone we want to one day be was once in our position.

As Kurt Vonnegut, who went to a college that’s possibly the only one more nerdy than our own [NO, THIS MUST BE REMOVED. NOT TRUE FOR A SECOND!], put it, “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

His quote is generally used by people like my parents grasping for ways to explain the Bush Administration. But it’s also the kind of thing that’s helped me bridge the gap between the confident student I was at the end of high school and the confident adult I want to be at the end of college. It’s a reminder that no one is more qualified from the outset. Some people just have more experience.

Perfectionism is overrated. If you believe, as I did, that the commenters on College Confidential and the smiling people on the Swarthmore website really have it all figured out; if you believe, as I did, that you can be the most eager student in your English, History, Math, and Econ classes all simultaneously; if you believe, as I did, that because you have such clear and fond memories of your friends from home that you can pick out the college crowd you’ll want to hang with before the end of Orientation Week, then you’re set up to discover that perfectionism isn’t a real menu item.

Swarthmore may be the very definition of academic eagerness, but everything comes only one step at a time. And if you believe you can make a snap judgment of everyone you meet at first sight, do you believe they can make one of you? Who wants that?

You’ll have to start with who you are now, and over time you’ll be able to focus in on the people and things that interest you here. The confidence to do that, the confidence to become a participant in the community instead of just a curious observer, comes with familiarity, and familiarity comes with time.

I know there are people who will blow you away, people who will make you think that perfect is achievable by looking like they’ve already achieved it. There will be people with half a dozen slam poems self-written and fully memorized. There will be people who read hundreds of books a year. There will be people who announce on day one: “I’m double majoring in Physics and Philosophy.” There will be people who sleep four hours a night and wake up better rested than you. There will be more people than you can count from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and there will be people who dress for big-city nightlife even in the middle of the day. Good for them. You don’t have to be anything you’re not already.

As long as you try things, feel around for your boundaries, and flesh out the space in between them, you’ll fit in just fine. The inclusivity that our community touts so highly doesn’t mean you have to be everyone; it simply means that everyone is an individual, shaped by their experiences and aiming in their own direction. As long as you love the things you do and work hard at them, you’ll find that in a year, people will be looking to you with wide eyes and slack jaws. You’ll have fun, and people will like you. Besides, we’re all at Swarthmore together. And someday after graduation, we too will be running the country.

Andrew Karas is a rising sophomore and our News Editor here at The DG. If you’d like to write for the news section, please email him at akaras1@swarthmore.edu.


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