Reflecting on the first half of college — and looming adulthood
As my second year concludes, I find myself entering the final half of college and coming closer to the looming “real world.” Some find the leap from high school to college and the newfound freedom to be particularly jarring. For me, the first two years of college did not feel like a sudden entrance into adulthood, but rather the last leg of childhood.
The few days of first-year orientation particularly stressed this fact. Since fourth grade, every academic year has started with my teacher coming to the front of the class and giving a formulaic speech about how we are no longer little third graders and will be treated like adults if we act like them. We would then head out to tightly supervised, dodgeball-free recess and the familiar school experience would resume where it had left off.
Moving into the hellish Dillard dorms first year, I was essentially told I could do whatever I wanted — and then was ordered to attend six mandatory meetings and skits about how to cultivate harmonious relationships with roommates and navigate the University’s drinking culture. As blasphemous as it sounds, I have never been particularly impacted by the educational power of the skit.
Orientation only lasts a few days, but dorm life as a whole is defined by hand-holding. Going into the year, students are not asked whether or not they want a meal plan, but how big a meal plan they want. It is also odd how, after driving for two-and-a-half years, car access is unceremoniously revoked upon our arrival to college. Finally, while RAs certainly do serve some important functions, a large part of their role is to act as University-sponsored hall monitors. First year was certainly a step up from high school, but it was hardly defined by autonomy.
Second year is largely free from University mandates, and apartment life gives a crash course in basic survival — but the student body is sharply divided by the magic number 21. There is a larger argument to be made about the fact that, as a 20-year-old, I am a legal adult and I can be drafted by the military, but I can’t publically drink a beer — therein lies a great sense of irony in people being tried as adults for underage drinking. But whatever your beliefs, students — at least those who do not want to commit a more severe crime by owning a fake ID — are divided by age.
Looking forward, while I will still be a financially dependent student, the coming years begin a direct transition to independent adult life. This summer, studying abroad at Oxford will be my first time living for an extended period outside of Virginia — let alone outside of the country. In addition to the new cultural experiences, this year’s British Open is central to my travel plans, allowing me to complete the second leg of my grand slam attendance career — and probably the second Tiger-less major I’ve attended — which is an important metric of my progress in life. Overall, being an ocean away from home will allow for a level of independence I do not experience living two hours away from home.
College is an important transitional stage, but is also a strange limbo between childhood and adulthood. I came in still feeling like a kid and being treated like one, but as every year passes, I feel more and more anxious to be set free in the world. These years are at once a prison and a sanctuary as the “real world” is just beyond reach, but I am largely insulated from its adversities. Any conversations I have with fourth-years show it is important I treasure my last two years — but at the same time, I look forward to what will follow them.
Christian’s column runs biweekly Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.