Over fall break, I was leafing through some old notebooks and came across the letter I had written to “Future Ben” as a first-year during Orientation Week. The letter itself was relatively uninteresting: it expressed a hope that the Ben reading this would be a cool dude with plenty of friends, along with some general Colgate-orientated goals (“By the time you read this, hopefully, you’ve been to the ‘Jug.’”) My first-year at Colgate was less than satisfying, and the letter reminded me of the kind of expectations myself and others had when we embarked upon this new chapter in our lives.
Throughout my adolescence, I was told by anyone who had ever been near a college campus that these four years would be the greatest years of my life. Between stories told by my parents of lifelong friends made through college and the tales told by recent high school graduates during vacations, I was confident that college would be my time to bloom. When I finally moved into Curtis in August 2013, expectations did not meet reality. I found making friends and filling my free time to be immensely challenging, harder than any class I was taking at the time. I felt lonely. When I scanned Facebook, I saw photos of high school friends enjoying college; it seemed like they were “winning” at college while I was “losing.” I wondered if I was doing this whole thing “wrong” and if one day, something would just click and suddenly I would resemble the college students I saw on social media.The truth is that college is something particular and unique to the individual – no two experiences are the same.
Since my first year, I’ve slowly edged out of my comfort zone and taken advantage of some of the opportunities available at Colgate. This past spring, I went on the Washington D.C. Study Group. I enrolled in the program without knowing a single other person in it beforehand; now, some of my best friends are from the Washington Study Group, and I consider the experience a highlight of my Colgate career. Regrets generally aren’t worth having, but I do wish that I had been more open and adventurous earlier on.
During one of the numerous events geared toward first-years in the first few weeks, I had a conversation with the then-Dean of Students, Scott Brown. By this point, I had given up on Colgate. I was already counting the days until fall break and had started to fantasize about which schools I could transfer to at the end of the year. When I answered honestly that, no, things weren’t going as well as I had hoped and that Colgate so far had been disappointing, he responded, “You just haven’t found ‘Your Colgate’ yet. Trust me, you will.” At the time, Dean Brown’s simple answer seemed like a weak and canned response – a line that had been inserted into his programming by the administration. I think I now understand what Dean Brown was talking about. Looking back at my experiences and the people I consider friends, I think I’ve found “My Colgate.” I’m happy now, and I have bloomed, just not in the way first-year Ben had envisioned.