To be honest I don’t remember my first day of Kindergarten particularly well. Oddly I can remember the weather, being hot and muggy, but not much else. Perhaps I found the heat to be as traumatic as I do now sitting in my sweltering dorm and I’m getting flashbacks. But while I can’t particularly remember the events of the day one thing I do remember is my gleeful outlook. I was about to do something I had never done before and enter an environment I was totally unfamiliar with, and yet I had no anxiety or preoccupations about this. The only thing I felt was pure excitement.
Fast forward more than a decade ahead and I found myself in a seemingly similar situation and yet I felt so incredibly different about it. This was my first day of college and I was terrified. Constantly going through my head were the many anxieties I’m sure many other college students can relate too. I wasn’t sure if I’d make friends, if I was totally prepared, or most importantly if I’d make myself look like a total idiot. These are supposed to be the best years of your life and it seemed like my entire college career, my fate, rested on this one day.
All these insecurities caused me to do a lot of things I laugh at now. Right as I got on campus I was determined to make friends, whoever they might be because I didn’t want to be the outcast who binge-watched Netflix alone in their room on their first night of college, their first night of freedom. This is how I ended up in a huge group of people, who, to be honest, I didn’t really like, to put it mildly.
I always laugh when I see freshman traveling in packs of 10 across campus at the beginning of the year because I know at one point that was me too. In these formative groups, for the most part, no one really likes each other they just don’t want to be the odd man out. Slowly these packs eventually disband. It’s funny how in Kindergarten your sense of childlike wonder made you honestly want to be everyone’s friend and then in college your motivations are oh so different.
But anyways, back to my first day. The group I had arbitrarily decided to join decided pretty immediately that they wanted to go to a frat party. Now, if you don’t know me, let me tell you, this is my worst nightmare. The whole idea of frat parties and what I call “Bro Culture” is, to say the least, not my cup of tea. Reinforcing heteronormative patriarchal ideals in a sweaty room with loud drunk people? No thanks. But what was I going to do? I didn’t want to leave the group because then I would be the outcast. So I justified my decision to stay in my head. “Come on college is about trying new things and leaving your comfort zone. Just go for it. It won’t be that bad.”
But let me tell you it was. Almost immediately I lost the group I was with and found myself alone, awkwardly trying to look like I belonged there. I nervously chugged the last Corona in the ice tub in the hopes that a little liquid courage would carry me through to the end of the night. It didn’t. Eventually, I just decided “Screw it, I’m leaving”. That was the right decision for more reasons than one. First, I guess the cops came about five minutes after I left at which point a couple of the people I was with decided to run into the woods. They spent the night in jail. But more importantly, I decided that it wasn’t worth it to compromise who I was just so that I could fit in and meet arbitrary expectations of what college should be.
We tend to ascribe so much meaning and importance to first anythings and I think this is unfounded. They are really only important in the abstract, and we have a tendency not to realize this. Consequently, we set such high, unfounded expectations, and mistakenly believe that if everything doesn’t go right the first day you’re screwed. Things take time. Your first day working a new job is usually slightly uncomfortable and you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. But that might go on to be one of your favorite jobs and a great experience. First dates can be really awkward but that doesn’t mean it won’t develop into a meaningful relationship later. My first day of college was filled with confusion and awkwardness, but I can gladly say now that it has been some of the best years of my life so far.
I think the main difference between my first day of Kindergarten and college is the fact that I didn’t go into Kindergarten with unrealistic expectations, or really any expectations. I was just psyched for the opportunity and knew that no matter what happened I’d make the best of it. College took a lot more figuring out. It’s funny how this came so easily to my five-year-old-self and yet 14 years later, when I was supposedly wiser, I had no clue. But I’m glad things turned out the way they did because I learned something valuable. Something my five-year-old self knew all along.
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