Note: this would have been more effective right after my semester had ended…but it took me a good few weeks to process and shape all my thoughts into something semi-coherent. So here it is, late, like most of the assignments I handed in this semester.
This past semester felt like it killed me multiple times while simultaneously leaving me hanging on for dear life. I’m not sure I’ve experienced a more emotionally turbulent and difficult time in my life, but I feel like I also learned a lot about myself and defined some of who I want to be.
I started off this semester by auditioning for the school musical, If/Then. It was my first “real” audition, the only one I’ve ever done that required me to sing, dance, and act. I didn’t have much confidence in my performance ability, but I figured I would audition for the experience and return for future shows better equipped to handle the process. I was initially cut – as I expected – but when someone was unable to accept her role, it was offered to me. It was a shock to me, yet it was overwhelmingly positive.
Performing in the musical shaped my semester. Because, yes, it was a great experience. I met new friends and solidified existing friendships. I became more comfortable with parts of my identity that I had thought I would never accept. It was all great, except when I came to the point when rehearsals were my life. I’m not sure what I expected – I’d been in shows before; I knew how much work was required of me – but I had to forego many of my goals for the semester because of the time requirements of the musical.
As such, I feel like I barely advanced in many areas of my life. I’m no closer to deciding on a future career or grad school plans. I wanted to use this semester to get in touch with myself and my goals – I wrote that, verbatim, on my list of semester goals – but I feel even more confused now than I did at the start. In fact, after this semester, I’m not even entirely sure that I belong in higher education – or any formal academic setting, for that matter. More and more often I found myself wondering why I was still in college if I weren’t working towards a degree I would use and a career I would love. Last year, when I felt this same level of burnout, I came to rationalize my lack of passion with the fact that I was working towards a career I would hate. This year, though, I was directionless – while I knew I was no longer sentencing myself to medical school (because that IS what it felt like; I felt like I was inflicting a jail sentence on myself), I had no end goal to drive me forward. My future is a hazy collection of half-dreamed fantasies and indistinct wishes that I don’t know how to reconcile with reality.
I also intended to deepen my involvement on campus this semester, but beyond the theater program, I don’t feel like I did. One of my greatest wishes was to use my leadership position in Allies (the LGBTQ group) to incite progress on campus, but I didn’t (couldn’t) dedicate the time towards that lofty goal. My limited supply of energy went first to my schoolwork and then to the musical; there was little left over for other pursuits. And I am proud of myself for this in some ways – I didn’t wear myself down by forcing myself to keep doing things when I was exhausted, and I prioritized my time to take care of my own health. However, that often came at the cost of my involvement. For everything I accomplished this semester, it still feels like I did very little, and I feel like I let my community down.
In some ways, this was a semester of new milestones and firsts, to the point that I feel like I lost some of my identity. Some of the things I did in the past few months were so unlike the “me” I knew that I questioned who I was. I came very close to pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper, staying up until 8 a.m. the night before the last day of classes. I skipped class for the first time – my bio class the morning after that almost-all-nighter. I procrastinated, I went to sleep without doing readings, I skipped readings altogether, I left my finals studying until the weekend before finals. I’ve never been one to relax in my studies, but I somehow did this semester. It was a new low for me, and it scares me a bit to know how much I sank this semester.
That isn’t to say that this semester was without accomplishments. I felt like I truly found my place at Etown in the past few months. While I made wonderful friends in my first year, this third semester was when I felt like I belonged among them, when I truly learned that the people around me were there for me. It was, collectively, not an easy semester, as many of us had our own difficulties, but I found that my friends would be with me through everything. As I left behind a tight-knit friend group when I came to college, I was scared that I would never find another group of people among whom I felt as happy, secure, and comfortable, but my college friends became that kind of family this semester. Endless love to them.
In many ways, I also found my voice in speaking up for what I believe in. While I still have further work to do as an ally to marginalized groups and a representative of my own communities, I think I made significant strides in finding my voice as a tool of advocacy. I am grateful to my women’s and gender studies course – a class I almost didn’t take – for allowing me the time to hone that voice and speak for myself and my thoughts, but I am also grateful for both in- and out-of-class experiences that educated me and taught me humility. That momentum of building my confidence while simultaneously learning humility is a momentum I hope to carry into 2019.
I am also incredibly proud of myself for applying to study abroad. While I told myself my study abroad application wasn’t going to be like my college applications – I would actually do work ahead of time instead of leaving it until the last minute – that was sadly not the case. Still, I got the application and all attendant forms done, and I am now set to study in Florence, Italy, next semester. It was something I thought impossible, but I don’t want to understate the work I did to make it true. Even though I felt like I was clueless and falling apart throughout the whole process, I got it done, and my persistence in doing so is very important to me.
I am writing this conclusion on a different day than I started this post. I am in a much better place, and I hope it shows – I am optimistic about what the next few months hold for me, and I am once more excited to be alive and in this stage of my life. My third semester of college was difficult to the point of almost breaking me, but I’m happy to still be here, still trying and failing and improving every day.