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Opinion

With all the stresses of graduation, it’s important to remember what made college worthwhile

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March 29, 2017

With spring commencement quickly approaching, I imagine that I am not the only person who is absolutely freaked out. Still, I am continually amazed at our ability as college students to (mostly) keep it together, because there are a lot of things no one tells us.

For me, college has kind of been like stumbling to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night. I’ve had a general idea which direction I was going and what the outcome would be, but I’ve felt a bit disoriented and clumsy trying to get there.

Like a number of students at UW-River Falls, I am a first-generation college student. Neither of my parents having experience with higher education meant that I came into this clueless. Extended family members tried their best, but the higher education environment changes so quickly that a lot of it was new to them, too.

Freshman year was a mess full of unanswered questions. My goodness, there are a lot of things no one tells you about college. What is student loan counseling? How formal are you supposed to be in your emails to professors? What do you wear to awards ceremonies? How are you supposed to make friends? How are you supposed to share a room with a stranger? How can you eat healthy in the dining hall?

Some of these questions can be answered by a quick Google search. Others can be solved by trial and error. Eventually, we figure these things out, or at least we get really good at pretending we have. We do this with all kinds of things. We stumble our way through our first few years of freedom, trying to convince the outside world that we have it together and are staying afloat just fine.

In reality, it can be really hard, overwhelming at times. We try to balance sleeping enough with pulling satisfactory grades while also eating well and working out and somehow finding time to maintain social lives. Many of us work part time or full time jobs. I’ve also noticed that an increasing number of people in my classes are parents. Some are married or planning weddings. Add a few student organization memberships and you’ve got an absolute mess.

I suspect that we all come into this knowing that it’s going to be tough. I just don’t think we’re aware exactly how hard it’s going to be. A lot gets asked of us all the time. As my roommate Sarah says, “College is just stress and carbs.” Isn’t that the truth?

It’s in those moments of despair that we have to remind ourselves of the other things no one tells us, the amazing moments that will stick with us forever. We don’t know when they’ll happen, but they’re the moments that leave us plopping onto our beds and thinking, “Wow, what a great night.”

For me, it’s been the fantastic moments I’ve had with my friends. It’s hanging out to study and instead ordering pizza and talking until the sun comes up. It’s the perfectly-timed “Taco Bell?” text from my roommate. It’s the surprise road trips I’ve had, kudos to having a friend who makes music and didn’t always want to travel to his shows alone. It’s having movie nights with my roommates and finally dropping my “tough girl” image and crying at a cheesy movie in front of them. It’s the feeling of closeness to a friend after a heavy life talk.

Those moments are in the impulsive nights out when my best friend comes to visit, and we always end up with a story. It’s going to the cities for one reason and stopping to see a friend’s friend from high school and having wristbands slapped on our wrists and being told to go to the fourth floor, only to find ourselves completely sober and accidentally at a rave. Sometimes, it’s literally standing on my friend’s porch in the middle of the night, surrounded by Christmas lights, and him saying, “These are the moments we’re going to tell our kids about.”

Those moments are exactly why it’s so hard to imagine my life after UWRF. It took a long time for me to call River Falls a home. Now, I see that I’ve developed quite a fondness for this place and the people in it. I actually missed it over spring break.

In a few months, there will be no seeing my roommates on a daily basis. There will be no random trips to Song Garden or Bo’s. I doubt I’ll ever find another place to watch a movie for $4. The police blotter is probably going to get a lot scarier and a lot less “drunk college kids doing dumb things.” Most importantly, I’ll never find people like the ones I’ve met here.

When I was a freshman, I was certain I wouldn’t make it to my second year. All of those things no one tells us were weighing on me, and I felt there was no hope for me to ever like it here. Now that it’s all about to come to an end and everything did fall into place, I’m amazed at the sorrow I feel about leaving.

As much as I’ve been telling my family and friends that graduation is not a big deal and it’s just me going thousands of dollars in debt for a piece of paper and a resume item, I’m realizing that it’s actually a huge deal. Making it through is an accomplishment in itself. These four years put us through a lot, and I think we owe ourselves a lot of credit for making it through. So to anyone graduating this May, cheers! And to anyone still working on it, you’ve got this.

Katie Galarno is a student at UW-River Falls.