No matter what I do, I always seem to inevitably bump into them — U.Va. tour groups. Hordes of prospective students and parents shuffling around in pursuit of a peppy University Guide bouncing around the sidewalk telling them all about the wonders of the University. If I’m close enough to overhear, I become absorbed into the demonstration. Sometimes, I even find myself becoming convinced by the guide to come attend the University before I realize, “Oh wait, I already am a student.”
But sometimes, it’s not such an amusing experience. As I gaze upon the curious faces of dozens of young students looking back at me, a strange sense of dread envelops me.
I suddenly see myself, four years ago, in the same place where they are. I think back to when I toured the University as a young, prospective student. Memories of myself, with my parents in tow, eagerly following the UGuide around Grounds, come flooding back. I remember being mesmerized by the sheer enormity and beauty of Grounds. It was completely wild to even consider the idea of living away from home and celebrating complete independence. I romanticized the idea of going to huge lectures for class and constantly hanging out with friends to attend parties every weekend. In my eyes, these big college students could do whatever they want!
You might think that this should be a nostalgic, pleasant memory. Maybe even a little humorous. But I see it differently. I’m haunted by the pervasive thought — “Did I live up to my expectations about college?”
I’ve been at the University for a grand total of a year and a half. I’m not sure if I should even count my first year here because I was mostly restricted to the confines of my dorm room and could only experience the thrill of classes over Zoom. My second year here, though, has been remarkably better. I’ve been attending all of my classes in person and throwing myself into as many extracurricular and social activities as possible. My Fitbit has been very proud of me as I routinely receive the satisfying buzz notifying me that I’ve completed the daily goal of achieving at least 10,000 steps.
My college experience, thus far, has certainly been unique to say the least. I’d like to think I’ve done my best to make the most of my time on Grounds, but I’m still unsure if I am truly living the life of the ideal college student. I thought that I would be going to parties every day of every weekend and have a complete plan of what I want to do when I graduate. I know that some of my perceptions of college culture were pretty naive and shaped by untrue media representations, but there are some other ambitions that I had that I’m worried I haven’t achieved. Grades, friend groups and career plans are only a few of the matters that I feel I fall short of. I aimed to keep up the grades I earned in high school and have a large friend group. I wanted to have a more concrete idea of what I’m going to do when I grow up.
As I look around myself and truly take in what it’s like in my day-to-day life on Grounds, I reflect on how fulfilled I feel. My sense of fulfilment should matter more than some silly checklist I’ve made up in my head. I think about how far I’ve come and how much time I still have. There’s still so many things that I have left to do and experience. All of the good, the bad and the late-night studying.
I’ve grown and matured in ways I haven’t expected. I’ve done things I never thought I would do. Before coming to the University, I never imagined I could become a co-editor of a collegiate newspaper and write columns to be published for complete strangers to read.
I haven’t done everything I thought I would do before I came to the University, it’s true. I realize now that lots of those ambitions were unrealistic and a romanticized version of reality. But I’ve also done so much more that had never even occurred to me.
Now, as I look at the prospective students touring Grounds and conjuring up scenarios about the things we actually do here, I won’t be scared of seeing them anymore. Instead I’ll laugh at all of the silly ideas I had in my head. Maybe they have some of the same expectations, and I can only do so much to mitigate that. But I can live with the fact that I didn’t live up to everything I thought I would live up to. If younger students create the misconceptions, hopefully they’ll come to the same realizations that I’ve come to.
Cecy Juárez is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.