I was President of the drama club in high school. I also became Vice President of many more clubs, and in even more clubs, I participated as an active member or associate or even a low-level officer position. Because of this, people recognized me as, in terms of involvement (if not actual size), the big man on campus. I found amazing friendships and community in all of this, as well as a great sense of validation. Teachers and parents looked at my accomplishments and told me I looked “impressive” and that I had “a bright future” ahead. These platitudes are the norm for ambitious high schoolers, the likes of whom are swarming our campus. I arrived at college, after years of being special, and realized that I had to start over.
None of the expectations or petty high school achievements diversified me from my peers, and the horror of a blank resume slapped me straight in the face.
That happened in August. Most freshmen experience something similar, many of us had lost passion for our high school activities but had not needed to fill the void—such is the essence of senioritis. Coming to college, though, everyone tells you to join clubs and to try new things. This would supposedly fill that hole, but in many cases, it cannot be done during the first month of your first year. Unless you step on campus with a concrete goal and an established community or program behind it, finding those essential aspects of your college experience will take time. Honestly, it won’t be easy; it will feel like you are treading water and moving nowhere, especially for those of us used to having a say in the direction of every single activity happening in school.
The first hurdle to get through, though, is that of isolation.
You are not alone, especially not if you feel it. I feel alone, my roommate feels alone, most of my floor feels alone and I guarantee that, at some point, most of the students at UF have felt alone. A cloud of existentialism and anxiety that nobody seems to talk about hovers, for varying amounts of time, over the experience of most first-years. It seems that this cloud becomes larger and darker the more involved one was in high school. In high school, very little uncertainty and very few real consequences ever appeared. We existed within the boundaries of a highly structured game with highly structured rules, which were easy enough to figure out. Those of us who played hardest experience the greatest shock upon entering the open-world reality of university life. It is the first taste of reality, where the world is looser and less forced, and adjusting takes time.
The timeline differs for everybody because each one of us is different.
Some find certain clubs that consume all their time and form new social groups with ease. Others neglect the transition entirely, clinging to friends from home or artificial social groups based on proximity. These people appear to have never left high school, and perhaps some of them will never have to; however, this mode of life never touches the true freedoms of the human experience, which can only really be appreciated and understood by feeling life stripped of everything you once knew.
The third timeline, the one I find most common among people like myself, is gradual and building.
Much like life itself, the answers do not rush in all at once, we find them slowly over long periods of time. There will be nights of loneliness, of homesickness, but also nights of unmatched joy. There will be doubt about one’s major, multiple changes in future careers and the picking up and tossing aside of many extracurriculars, friendships and relationships. All of this, though, builds into a new life, one cultivated through a massive period of trial and error. It is a life you make and you will be proud of. All those ambitious traits that have no outlet in your first semester, that you think you may never use again, will fit into the new set of circumstances you built. You will be a leader again, not in the small setting of high school, but on a grander scale in Gainesville. You just need to keep pushing.