I have to apply to volunteer?
The extracurricular milieu of a first-year
Three weeks ago, U.Va. Today’s front page read “U.Va.’s Largest Entering Class Boasts Intellectual Firepower, Diversity.” Key word: boasts.
The Class of 2017, myself included, walked onto Grounds feeling subconsciously superior. At least, that’s what this article told us we were — superior to a host of national academic and standardized test averages. So, unpretentiously, we carried with us a notion of importance that should have been left behind in high school.
Although we came “from as nearby as Charlottesville High School and as far away as Cuba and Cameroon, Ghana and Guatemala,” we shared one thing in common: we had fought to the top of the high school food chain. We had ruled superior from the perch of every club, report card and organization that was available to our teenage selves. We boasted by exuding confidence and excitement — thankful for the opportunity to be at such a wonderful place with so many phenomenal peers, but secretly reveling in the knowledge that we deserved to be here.
Slowly, however, we realized in the new hierarchy we were nothing. Our proximity to the coveted 2400, our talents on turf or on the trumpet and our so-called “intellectual firepower” were deemed insignificant with the popping of the high school bubble we had existed in previously. And so, after the frenzy of block parties and the establishment of a weekly routine, we settled quietly into what I would like to call the inevitable first-year Superiority Complex, a psychological defense mechanism in which a first-year’s outward confidence counters or conceals his or her feelings of inferiority.
This is my personal mechanism of choice — but it’s not working. If it were, and I had erased all feelings of inadequacy by pretending that I am still as successful as I was in high school, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Instead, I am half-journaling, half-columning my way through 800 words in the hopes that I can find solace in the fact that I am not the only one who will probably get rejected from UGuides Friday, no matter how many times I walk around the Lawn whispering dates to myself.
I strode confidently into the first smattering of meetings in September. Application process? Interview? No problem. But I soon found applying to be in a club in college was different than in high school, where I paid $5 a year to eat Little Caesar’s off of biodegradable plates in Green Club and made up excuses for why I couldn’t attend highway cleanup on Saturday. Nonetheless, I still rested on my remnant senior swagger that getting in would be a breeze. It wasn’t.
As the applications in my “Downloads” folder piled up between class syllabi, I watched some of the most talented and eloquent people I know get rejected from the gamut of organizations; a cappella groups, the Jefferson Society, and First Year Players are all missing some exceptional members. But with my first-year Superiority Complex on full throttle, I dove in undeterred and found myself facing upcoming interview and trial dates.
I made a few things I wanted — namely TEDxUVA, and The Cavalier Daily. I considered myself lucky that I hadn’t faced the denials my friends had. So I gave out hugs and encouraging words without feeling the empathetic pang of rejection. Slowly, however, nagging errands and strains — a dress needing to be dry-cleaned, extra pressure to perform in a 4000 level seminar and a dwindling supply of my favorite cereal — got to me. Maybe I didn’t have it all together.
The scariest part about college is recognizing that everything is on us — including the decision to embrace feelings of inadequacy and to do something about them. But the most empowering part is realizing there is something we can do about them, and that is push forward. So let’s do it, Class of 2017. After all, we are “hustlers.”