NOT FOR NOTHIN’: True meaning of college revealed

Amy Richards

The morning I left for Villanova, or really just the end of the long night before, my friends posed the question, “Amy, are you ready for college?”

I looked at them sitting on the floor of my room, crouched on my bed, and said, “Well, sure, I just need to throw a few things together, right?”

We picked up things from the floor of my room, grabbed some underwear, socks, hangers, my electric keyboard, a few pens, running shoes, a lucky shot glass and a sleeping bag. We ran out into the cool morning and stuffed the items into the back of my station wagon. We looked at each other and laughed. This was it. I would be the first to leave. It was the end of an era. That summer had set us with high expectations for even greater fun. We were pumped, except we had no idea what going to college actually meant.

So my four friends hopped on top of my station wagon. They would stay home while I broke off early to be oriented at Villanova.  

We made it down the block before my mom yelled at my friends to dismount and they jumped off. If I said I never looked back since then, I’d be lying.  In fact, I have looked back, left, right, up, down and around to try to get my bearings ever since. I walked into Villanova orientation with confidence and walked out more confused than ever before. I left my classes all the more disoriented. I became less and less sure that I would make it to graduation day.  Last week, I still wasn’t sure I would make it to graduation day.

But here I am, about to graduate, writing my last column in the paper, reliably late. And this is where I’m supposed to say that I’ve learned a thing or two in the process and am now an authority figure on college life.

I suppose I can say I’ve been to a real rager, had a spontaneous dance party, pulled an all-nighter, taken some standardized tests, written research papers, joined a club or two or seven, celebrated made-up holidays with made-up drinks, met friends for life…Wait, silence the pastoral musicians over there.  We could have done all these things in high school, right?

So what is this college we see printed on shirts and posters, that we wave at each other on the brink of our “bad decisions,” this college that sends our uncles barreling toward us at family reunions, eager to reminisce, this college category into which we have fallen neatly for the past four years dismissing us from the world around us?

Maybe it’s our new expertise in accelerated drinking games; our thrift in sharing tiny cement quarters with another person, as well as two whole beds and all of her clothes; our personal relationship to the CamCo delivery man; college discounts; winning scholarship money just because we’re “committed students”; our ability to solve more difficult math problems or argue about arguments.  Perhaps it is just that we are four years older, or five or six.  

I can say this: I’m not sure what I expected that morning, but I know whatever it was, college is not at all what we each expected. 

It turns out college is as much an abstraction as any ideal discussed in class. It is a convenient fiction onto which we latch that distracts us from admitting the quiet subtleties of life as a college student: one of unique individual experience.  So college wasn’t just a four-year party.   Somewhere along the way, life crept in, and we had to throw out our notions of how college should be done and had to start living our lives as they unraveled on Villanova’s campus.

As much as we harbor nostalgia for those nights with roommates that blur together, we know college has meant far more. We will not emerge unscathed by the decisions we have made here. We will walk away having known loss, whether it be a shoe at a formal, a game, our direction or a friend.  But we will have gained something else in the process: tougher feet, modesty, an idea or a moment to be on our own.  

What we will remember is a world of self discovery that could never be described neatly in one white word printed in capitals on a navy blue T-shirt.  No, college has been far more challenging than any drinking competition and far more rewarding than any title at the Beer Olympics. It has been a crazy, confusing, beautiful mess for which no early packing could have prepared us.

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Amy Richards is a senior honors, Spanish and global interdisciplinary studies major from Kings Park, N.Y.  She can be reached at [email protected]