Don’t let school get in the way of college

Building and maintaining friendships teaches you more than class ever can

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When I think of friendship, I think of the back seat of my friend Cole’s car on a warm August night. I had just parted from someone I cared about very deeply, and while three of my friends drove me to the airport, I just couldn’t contain the emotion — I started crying.

Thankfully, Lizzie — my best friend and favorite adventure buddy — was sitting next to me. Before I knew it, she was crying too.

I have written at great length about romantic love, but now, I want to focus on a much more prevalent form of love — friendship. Whereas romance comes and goes, friendship is always available to those who seek it. For better or for worse, good friends stand with you through thick and thin, through both the good times and the bad. And while not everyone may be an empathetic crier like dear old Lizzie, I believe that the love between friends is perhaps the deepest and most profound type of love that we are privileged to have the capacity to experience.

College is perhaps the best opportunity in your life to build and cement these relationships. This is not to say that new friendships become an impossibility after graduation, of course — rather, it is a tip of the cap to the fact that living within a bubble of thousands of similarly-aged peers is a unique experience that is unlikely to be replicated in the near future. For many of us, this is our first time being displaced from everyone and everything that comprised our world growing up, so we are in search of connections to make this strange new place feel like home.

Thankfully, college is designed as a platform for creating exactly these types of relationships. As my good friend Mary says, “College is the time to find your bridesmaids, not your bride” — though I believe those two searches need not be mutually exclusive. From dorms and student organizations to classes and libraries, opportunities to meet people abound. Whether you expect it or not, these individuals come to define your college experience. These friends are both the cause and effect of gut-wrenching laughter and thought-provoking conversations, and your development as a human throughout college is inextricably tied to these people and relationships.

Early on during my first year — at the urging of the Career Center website and my mom — I sat down with a professor. Somehow, we ended up discussing the fact that many fourth-years would come to him seeking advice about how to make the most of their last semesters at the University. Expecting sage wisdom on how to beat the job market, they were always surprised when he told them to spend their last year of college cementing their relationships formed here in Charlottesville. But in his eyes, those connections are invaluable and much more important than any one class or technical skill. I wholeheartedly agree.

In my mind, the most important takeaway from any experience is the relationships gained through it. If you race to watch a sunrise with a group of friends, though the image of that beautiful sight might stick with you for a while — maybe even forever — the aspect of that adventure which will continue to interact with and shape you after the fact are those bonds created or developed with people. This is true outside of the sentimental realm, too. In the professional world, a piece of advice I have been given time and time again is to never burn bridges because you never know when someone might pop into your life again.

So what does this mean? It means that while classes and skills are important, you should pause for a moment and consider what exactly you will remember about these few short years a little ways down the road.

Take my memory of one of my first year classes, for instance. I took Desire and World Economics with George Mentore — a great class — and here are the two things I remember:

1.  Capitalism sucks.

2.  Becoming friends with the tour guide that inspired me to come to the University — a friendship that ultimately resulted in me attending a coffee tasting party on the Range more than two years later.

I tell this story not to demean the value of learning, education or classes — they are important — but rather to highlight the relativity of their importance.

Approaching friendship as a fourth-year is a particularly interesting challenge. My experience has been defined by a struggle to balance developing old friendships with creating new ones as I continue to meet increasingly intriguing individuals here at the University. In my opinion, both types of relationships are important. In direct disagreement with some my friends’ mantra of “no new friends,” I believe that we should always strive to meet more people and build new relationships.

Of course, take this opinion with a grain of salt, since I am the kind of person who, when asked whether he prefers having a few close friends or a large group of acquaintances, answers by saying he enjoys having a large group of close friends. Yeah, I know — I’m the worst. But when it comes to friendship, I believe that you can have your cake and eat it too.

So whether you are in your first year or your fourth, make the most of your college experience by casting your friendship net as widely and deeply as you can. You may learn a lot from your classes, but friends will teach you even more about the world — and yourself.

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