Walking out of class

Students walk out of Williams Hall as classes end, Feb. 21, 2019.

Author's note: I first published this piece in August of 2019 when I was a newly-hired opinions editor. Though I originally wrote this for the class of 2023, I believe my words still hold true today and embody a lesson that we all need to remember. Whether you're a freshman, a senior like me, or someone with your feet firmly planted in the adult world, I hope this piece can give you some comfort and remind you that while perfection is impossible, kindness to yourself and others is always possible  and necessary! -Lexi Solomon, managing editor

After the nonstop stress and anxious anticipation of high school graduation, college is supposed to be the reward. As your parents and commencement speakers have reminded you, your arrival at Virginia Tech is the product of over 12 years of hard work, the light at the end of a tunnel filled with countless all-night study sessions, last-minute essay writing and plenty of tears. Your family and friends are no doubt excited for you; if they’re anything like mine, they’ve jokingly warned you not to party so much that you forget to check in. Before I began my freshman year, my aunt told me, “You’ll have so much fun from the second you get there, you won’t even get the chance to miss your parents.” 

The stereotypical portrayals of movie characters’ college antics, marked by spontaneous late-night adventures and ragers almost always broken up by the cops, only heighten the excitement for thousands of incoming freshmen. College will be great, they say; you’ll instantly find friends who get you, and you’ll have something to do every weekend. Best of all, this “fun” starts nearly the second your parents pull away for that long drive back home.

There’s some truth in all that. I definitely had my share of spontaneous outings my freshman year courtesy of my roommate, who is far more outgoing than I could ever hope to be; and if I had looked hard enough, I probably would have found something to do every weekend if I didn’t want to be stuck in my dorm room. You can always check out Weekends Well Spent if you need help on that front. However, unlike what my friends, family and the movies had promised, college wasn’t great for me from the moment I arrived. In fact, my first two months in Blacksburg were miserable at times.

Don’t get me wrong — I wholly believe that my decision to attend Virginia Tech is the best I’ve ever made, and my Facebook friends can attest to the unabashed pride in my posts about school. It’s just that after years of looking forward to college, anticipating independence, new buddies and an entirely new environment, what I found when I got here was a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t the town; Blacksburg is lovely, and the locals are incredibly kind. It wasn’t being away from home and my parents (sorry, Mom and Dad). As much as I did miss them, I enjoyed getting to set my own schedule and doing my own grocery shopping. Rather, my biggest disappointment upon entering college was the loneliness I quickly felt.

Nobody talks about the loneliness, even though a 2017 survey found that 64% of college students reported feeling “very lonely” within the previous 12 months. Despite being surrounded by thousands of other new students in the same situation as you, there is oftentimes a disconnect where you believe you’re the only one who hasn’t instantly clicked with a group of new friends, the only one doing laundry on Friday nights and the only one who is desperately homesick by Labor Day. 

If this is where you find yourself, don’t look at social media. That will only make it worse; scrolling through your Instagram feed, you’ll see Lizzie from high school, who has already joined a sorority and met her “besties,” or Tim from your neighborhood, who has been to 20 parties by the end of the second week of classes. Here’s the thing — social media is where everybody puts real and metaphorical filters on how they’re feeling, creating a brilliant facade to conceal what’s truly going on. Remind yourself that most people aren’t going to get an Instagram account just to tell their followers how miserable they actually are. If you let yourself indulge in the temptation to compare yourself to your acquaintances from high school, you’ll only feel more alone, and the sadness will simply spiral from there. 

The hard truth about college is that there will be moments where you wonder if you made the right choice. Later, you’ll look back on those moments and chuckle at yourself for ever questioning your decision to be a Hokie. Understand that a large part of college is learning how to be comfortable and happy being on your own. Know there will be times where the stress of it all feels overwhelming, and those are the times where I would encourage you to seek out the wonderful resources of Schiffert Health Center or Cook Counseling Center. 

I won’t sugarcoat it — college is a place for you to grow, and growth often requires a lot of hard reality checks and difficult obstacles to conquer. But I would encourage you to use the challenges you encounter as opportunities to grow and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you can’t find a single spot at Turner, ask someone if you can join them at their table — you might make a new friend. If you end up having three roommates instead of the single you’d originally pictured, hone your conflict-resolution skills as you learn to live peacefully with others in a small space. Accept that private moments are a luxury now that you perform personal-hygiene routines in a synchronized ballet with your hall or suitemates. If, like me, you are a liberal arts major who gets stuck with a class at the Math Empo, do the best you can, take advantage of Tech’s tutoring services and use the class as a chance to prove to yourself that you can conquer math.

Of course, the biggest stressor that adults can’t prepare us for is the struggle many college students face as we try to figure out exactly who we are. With college being the first lengthy time away from home for many freshmen, the pressure to discover who you can finally be free from parental supervision can feel crushing. If you have friends from home coming to Tech with you, you might feel tempted to stick with your old crew, doing the same activities you did in high school. The temptation is understandable; college is scary enough on its own, and more terrifying when you consider switching up your usual routine and trying something new. But I’ve found that when you don’t even attempt to experiment, you end up watching everyone around you discover new sides to themselves —  new interests, new talents, new friend groups — while you’re left behind and growing stagnant. That’s a feeling you want to avoid.

To get even a taste of that electric exhilaration college movies portray, you have to let go of the familiar. With around 800 clubs and student organizations at Virginia Tech, there is a group of like-minded souls for everyone. If your roommate is a total mismatch, there are plenty of other students in your dorm, on-campus organizations and in your classes. My best memories from freshman year were all made while I was doing something I’d never done before, hanging out with new people, or trying my hand at a new skill like writing for the Collegiate Times. It might be scary, but I promise the reward is worth the risk.

Looking back on how unhappy I was when I first came here and comparing it to the joy I feel now, I am able to treasure the friends I’ve met here and the adventures I’ve shared with them. My highs wouldn’t feel nearly as hard-earned or appreciated if I hadn’t powered through the lows to get to them.

Rely on upperclassmen who have walked the path into this university before you. Follow their breadcrumbs to find the shortcuts to classes and dining halls, though we’ll beg you to avoid the temptation to Grubhub Jamba Juice on a daily basis. We’re all waiting to share how many times we’ve changed our majors, had a midnight freakout at the library or insisted our parents let us FaceTime the pets for the 12th time that week. However, we’ll also tell you all about jumping to “Enter Sandman,” singing along to concerts at Burruss Hall and watching a beautiful Blacksburg sunset from the Pylons. Benefit from our mistakes and listen to our advice (on most things) — we don’t bite.

Congrats on becoming Hokies, and welcome to the best college campus on Earth. Your perfect collegiate experience won’t just happen; you’ll have to make it for yourself. With all the cultural, educational and athletic opportunities here, that’s doable for anyone. Every time you wonder if you’ve made the right choice in coming here, let me be the first to remind you — you definitely have. 

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