Finding reason and purpose in freshman year

About three months ago, after tossing my cap into the air along with the rest of my graduating class, I remember having this strange feeling. Although I was happy to be finished with the tedium of high school — with its irritating bell schedule and all-too-common superficiality — I felt an underlying uncertainty constantly tugging at the strings of my happiness.

This uncertainty was perpetuated by feelings of anxiety about the future and the fear of the unknown. Most of this uncertainty, however, was aided by a highly contagious form of cynicism that resulted in a sort of existential crisis.

The more I realized the prospect of college was cemented onto my life path, the more I heard echoes of this cynicism in my head. I’d find myself wondering: what if college really is an extension of high school? Will anything I learn be useful in the so-called real world? Is it worth spending all that time and borrowing all that money, which I can only really hope to pay back someday? And most importantly, why do I actually want to get a college degree?

So throughout the next three months, these thoughts constantly lurked somewhere in the back of my mind. At times, the doubts would become truly unbearable, even causing me to lash out in uncalled-for anger against my closest friends and family members.

And then it was finally here. I moved in at the end of welcome week, at the start of a hurricane, which seemed to do well in mirroring the whirlwind of my inner thoughts. I unpacked everything I had considered necessary for my new life from a few old suitcases with half-broken zippers and rusty wheels, which I had found in my parents’ basement. After a while, I went to sleep in my new bed, still thoroughly unsure of what to expect out of the next four years.

It’s been two weeks since that first night. If I have learned anything, it’s that adjusting to a new life has everything to do with figuring out a new routine. It’s about finding constancies to rely on as a sort of comfort. It’s also about bearing in mind the bigger picture and figuring out how you want your college education to fit into the grand scheme of your life.

So now, the sounds of running and screaming down the residence halls into the morning hours are no longer strange to my ears. And TDR sweet potato fries are a staple in my daily diet. All I can really say then is that I finally feel at home.

As for my monetary concerns, I still don’t know if $53,000 a year is worth it. Maybe I’ll just have to wait to make that assessment in another four years. Nevertheless, I do know that, given all the odds for the majority of people my age in the world, I am extremely lucky to be able to be here. For now, the constancies I’ve come to rely on have helped me stay the course.

More importantly though, in light of attempting to see this bigger picture, I’ve been increasingly compelled to ask myself a single question about my reason for being here. Borrowing from a speaker at a recent event on Chilean human rights, I have begun asking myself, “For whom?” as in for whom am I going to get my degree here at AU? Should it be for my parents, in order to please them? Should it be for myself, in order to have a prestigious career? Or should it be for something greater than that — like a deep commitment to a cause for true social justice?

Ultimately I realize that, despite my adjustment anxiety and initial cynicism, my education isn’t really all about me at all. I’ve come to understand that my four years here are for giving me the tools I need to be become a force in the movement for fundamental global change.

Mana Aliabadi is a Freshman in SPA. Please send comments and responses to:

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