Every night before every first day of school, especially during middle school, was always as restless for me as the night before Christmas was when I was a toddler. The only difference was that there was always a healthy dose of nervousness along with the excitement. My mind was filled with questions and worries and hopes for how the new school year would be—often there would be a backpack stuffed with notebooks and pencils leaning against the foot of my bed next to an outfit laid out on the floor that I hoped would set the stage for what kind of kindergardener/sixth grader/freshman I would be. Basically, I was a huge nerd.
To be honest, I still am and I’m 900% sure my night before my first college classes will be the same way. At the end of August I’m going to be moving from my town with a population of a little over 13,000 to a metro area that is home to more than 3 million people, where I’ll attend school at the tenth largest university in the United States. If I was nervous before going to my first PSEO class at my local community college (which contained almost exclusively other PSEO students from my own high school and students who didn’t leave town after graduation), which I inexplicably was, then how nervous am I going to be walking into my first real college class? How am I going to navigate my way around the huge campuses when I can barely navigate the areas surrounding my own hometown? What if I get there and then I’m like, “WAIT, I DON’T EVEN REALLY KNOW HOW TO USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?” What if my super cool and friendly roommate, who already lives in the city, is going to think I’m a baby from a hick town who doesn’t even really know how to use public transportation? Should I have a fake ID? HOW DO YOU GET A FAKE ID? What is it going to be like being thrown into an environment of completely new faces when I’ve been around the same people for most of my life? All of the things that I’ve been excited for and have been waiting for for so long are suddenly kinda terrifying.
When my sister, who is ten years older than me, was in high school, I remember being excited to have the same experiences as she did. She was always surrounded by friends—having hangouts and game nights, watching movies, taking pictures, going on dates—she seemed to thrive in our town. Once I started high school, the expectations that I had were quickly revealed to be faulty. A social life didn’t fall into my lap—I had a few close friends, but overall I felt unattached to my town and never felt like I actually belonged.
I think that I could’ve done a lot more to be more social and gain more experiences during high school, whether my rural environment was ideal for me or not, and it made me realize that just having expectations and hoping for them to happen is almost never going to make them become a reality.
During my senior year, I met some really cool people that I wish I could’ve had more time to get to know, but instead I kept myself largely closed off throughout high school and made the stupid assumption that most of the people around me were not people I would ever be interested in spending time with. It wasn’t fair of me to assume that I’d have this lavish social life and then not even try very hard to make friends.
For a long time I’ve had similar expectations for college, daydreaming about making lifelong friendships and insane inside jokes and important memories, as well as studying my ass off, even though I’m definitely not as outgoing as I sometimes pretend I am and I am a terrible procrastinator who has on occasion studied for a test minutes before taking it.
For a long time I’ve put so much weight on the next four years being better than my previous eighteen. This, I’ve thought to myself, is when I’m really gonna make it. I know that this is unrealistic, and that college is going to be whatever I put into it. I’ve learned not to just expect things to turn out how I want them to without taking action. And it is true that I am nervous about everything that’s waiting for me, but there’s also a lot of excitement. Maybe I won’t immediately become my best self and maybe I’m not ready for all of the changes that are about to be thrown at me, but I do know that I’m bored as hell with my current situation and that I can at least expect some adventure to come from all of this uncertainty.
I keep imagining the moment when my parents will hug me goodbye and close the door of my dorm room behind them and every single time it makes me shiver with excitement, not fear.