Written by Becca Solberg
Art by Emma Killeen
As the holidays come and go, there is typically a popular small talk question that weaves through the pine-smelling gatherings. Over green beans and fondue, grandparents and uncles across the country revert to this single question carefully formulated by age, yet undeniably cliche. Accordingly, in high school we could rattle off that college spiel in our sleep. Then a few college parties later the questions simplified to “How’s school?” And for those in the inevitable and infinite post-grad life, it’s “How’s your job?”
This year, for us 2019 college graduates, the question was “What are plans after graduation?” followed by, “How do you feel about your last semester of college?” (Give me a holler if you got this one-two punch). In regards to the second question, my response involved dramatically pretending to wipe a tear from my face. My experiences in 2018, studying abroad in Madrid, working in New York, then living with eight of my best friends in Ann Arbor, truly opened my eyes to the beauty and simplicity of college. After these experiences, I learned to not take myself too seriously and to prioritize the intangible progress of relationships.
Up until junior year my priorities were weighted towards school and internship recruiting. I put pressure on myself freshman year to get into my major, then sophomore year I relentlessly applied for internships. As I am in a business fraternity, I felt stressed to live up to upperclassmen around me. If I wanted to be successful, I undoubtedly needed a sophomore year internship at top company in a big city. I would literally lock myself in room 7 of my sorority house (sorry Rach) to conduct networking calls, then darted to the library to study accounting or try to find the bug in my computer science project. Despite the social allure of living with 50 girls, I had a hard time going out or socializing. I regretfully missed game days to study, and vividly remember coming home after a night out to review for a mid-term. One night, my boyfriend Sam and I were relaxing, and I suddenly bursted in tears - the kind where you make sounds like a whale to take in a breath. I had great friends but didn’t spend the time with them that a true, deep relationship requires.
After studying in Madrid, I realized holy cow my friends at school rule and I need to take a chill pill. As much as the Instagrams of the world rave about #abroad, it was one of the most challenging times of my life. Growing up, I spent little time alone - I was constantly surrounded by my chatty mother, running or eating ice cream with my friends, and texting or hanging out with my boyfriend, Sam. I attended college comfortably two hours away from home and my life beat to a similar drum - my mom, friends and Sam always within reach. In a foreign country, the weak wifi and time change made me feel stranded from those I love. Sam and I took a break, which strained my heart and consumed my thoughts. I settled with friends I wasn’t comfortable or happy with.
After working in New York, I realized omg controlling my own schedule is epic and in college I have so much time. While I loved my job and the people I worked with, I would come home in the evenings and have an hour to run and eat before going to bed to rest for my 6:30am start. Unlike class or studying, I truly had to be at work every single day. Then the weekends? I was tired! A Friday night out called for a full day in bed. In college I don’t have class until 1pm. I finish class at 4. Why in the world do I not have time to spend with friends? As my friend Rachel says more eloquently, if there is something you want to do, you can always make time for it.
Similarly, in an article I read in school, the author Clay Christensen said that it is difficult to see the progress of relationships. With academic work or a job, you can sit down and crunch out some problems and check items off the to-do list. You can see the progress of your work. Relationships are not so easy - you cannot see tangible strides with friendships. Nevertheless, relationships take equally or more time to be successful. The definition of this success is different for everyone but likely elicits each person’s unique form of happiness.
In the fall of 2018, I spent time with the friends because it was something I wanted to do. I woke up excited on game days, and allowed time at night to patrol the bathroom area to see who was home and available for a convo. Weekend nights were not meant for the libraries, and this did not mean we had to be at Ricks or Skeeps. Some of my favorite nights involved sitting in our living rooms and just talking or watching youtube videos. I feel like I knew my friends on a deeper level and they knew me. I was comfortable being my true self and found the college happiness Grandparents and Uncles rave about.
Am I sad about my last semester? Yes. I know graduation does not mean the end to my college friendships, but distance and busy schedules inevitably take their toll. Through my experiences in Madrid and the working world, I have come to value the flexibility of our college schedules and the opportunity to be surrounded by friends at all times. The hours to master accounting principles will never be memorable at next year’s holiday dinner, yet the game nights or deep conversations foster friendships and happiness that are unforgettable.