New entries for the ever-lengthening list of “Things I Didn’t Anticipate Before Going to College”: the sheer volume of rice and beans I have consumed since arriving on campus, the literally stackable nature of the library stacks, and the spectacular failure that was my first English assignment.
To be clear, I didn’t actually fail in the way of getting an “F.” In some ways, I almost wish I had—certainly that would have been more impressive, given that it was supposed to be an ungraded assignment. What I got, written across the top of my paper in a hasty scrawl, which only an English PhD could produce, was a “Let Us Speak”—which, as a self-respecting neurotic will gladly attest, is just a gentler, more literary way of saying that I screwed up big time. Naturally, I stumbled out of English class that day (today, actually—see how quickly self-reflection sets in when you hit rock bottom?) wondering where in the cosmically tragic overall scheme of my life I had gone wrong. Had I missed something crucial in seventh grade, the year I spent secretly listening to my iPod while my English teacher droned on and on? Could it be chalked up (as so many of my character flaws can) to my having never been breast-fed? My Catholic guilt reached an all-time high as I trudged back to my dorm, dreading the meeting with my professor scheduled for 4 p.m. sharp (another weird thing about college—everything always seems to be sharp).
When you’re in high school, everybody warns you that college is going to be harder, usually as a (sorely misguided) motivating tactic.
“You’d better do the reading now, because in college you’ll have to do the reading and if you don’t you won’t graduate and you’ll have to live in the gutter and all your inevitably illegitimate children will get scabies and die a slow, gruesome death.” Luckily for sites like Facebook, whose stock goes up as a direct result of nationwide teenage procrastination, most high-schoolers think scabies is a rare variant of Neopet, and thus the threat goes empty. At any rate, it doesn’t matter how many times you tell a complacent, relatively high-achieving (or low-achieving, for that matter) high school student about the realities of academia—chances are, he’ll assume he knows what he’s getting into.
And maybe he does. Maybe he’s used to doing homework surrounded by his lovable-but-admittedly-occasionally-noisy peers and trying to concentrate on a one-page ungraded English assignment that really doesn’t seem that important when there are so many other fun things he could be doing. Maybe he understands what it’s like to be up at 2 in the morning writing an article for The Student Life, fretting over which gender pronoun would be the most inclusive and the least likely to offend the general readership, which he is painfully aware is composed of people older and wiser and therefore scarier than he (or she). And maybe, just maybe, he was lucky enough to attend a high school anything remotely like any one of these five colleges: A high school chock-full of smart, articulate, genuinely interesting people who aren’t afraid to speak up in class, or dedicate a significant chunk of their day to that one-page English assignment not for the grade they know they won’t get, but for the pursuit of greater understanding and excellence for its own sake.
Because, for all the Mexican food I’ve eaten in the past four weeks, that’s what really gets me about being here. Our old high school teachers were right—they do hold you to higher standards here, but they couldn’t do that if the caliber of student wasn’t so gosh darn high to begin with. I guess it’s a cycle; the members of the 5C community are constantly challenging each other, inside of class and out, and so everybody is constantly getting better. The days of high school complacency are over; we’re playing with the big boys now (again with the heteronormativity, I know, but I may or may not be fishing for a Prince of Egypt reference).
New entries for the ever-lengthening list of “Things I Learned Today Alone” (yesterday, I guess, now that it’s 2:30 in the morning): one with leftover homework to do should allow oneself a buffer of two hours between waking up and going to class (due to the extreme comfiness of one’s mattress pad, the subsequent difficulty of remaining conscious, etc.), rice and beans go great in combination with Salisbury steak and Goldfish crackers (nothing like sampling the ENTIRE Collins menu in one sitting) and “Let Us Speak” is not necessarily a call to give up the ghost and start lining up some cream for your future children’s scabies. I survived my meeting with my professor, obviously, and I came away with the realization that I had simply taken the wrong approach to the assignment. I know what I did wrong, and I won’t do it next time. This doesn’t mean that I won’t get another LUS in the future—as I’ve said before, there is a vast array of mistakes to be made—but hopefully I’ll take it as a chance to get better, and not cause for a panic attack. And, with all that said, it’s time for some teenage procrastination in the form of pre-bedtime Zuckerberg love. Some things never change.