I cried on my first night of college. There I was, curled up in my tiny bed in East Halls, feeling completely alone. I’d had the same close friends since I was a child, where forming relationships was as simple as playing a game of tag with the neighbors or spending the afternoon on the swing set with my classmates. Coming to Penn State, where I was expected to start a new life with complete strangers, was the biggest culture shock I’d ever experienced.
Before, I’d never had to go up to someone I didn’t know, introduce myself and hope to be liked. I’d never had to ask a group if I could sit with them during dinner. I’d never had to put myself out there, where girls would judge whether I was worthy of their time.
I thought to myself, “There’s no way anyone will like me.” As the minutes ticked by that night, I became more and more sure of my future: I needed to get out of here.
I called my best friend that night, begging her to take me home. I didn’t think I would ever fit in or find people I trusted in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. Being miserable for four years wasn’t something I wanted any part of.
She actually laughed when I told her this. Friendships aren’t formed overnight, she explained — it takes time for them to shape. For the first time in my life I felt vulnerable because I knew what I had to do: make an effort to meet people.
I began leaving my door open, so the girls on my floor could stop in and introduce themselves. I did homework with students from my classes, even though it took more time than if I’d just done it alone. I asked when my floormates were going to the dining commons for lunch so we could eat together.
Slowly but surely I started to believe all the people who told me not to blink too fast because college will be over before I know it. It took more time than I thought, but sometime over shared watery pasta at the dining commons or laughs while we recounted stories from the night before, these girls had become my best friends.
My time here at Penn State has surpassed every expectation I ever had. This place has become my home, just like my parents and siblings promised it would.
I wish I could say I had some grand advice I learned over the past four years, but I can’t because I still don’t have most of the answers. As I sit here thinking about the mistakes I’ve made, I realize I wouldn’t want to change any of them. Each speed bump brought me to where I am today, and for that, I am forever grateful.
So rather than leave you with a piece of advice I learned, I’d like to thank the people who defined my college experience. Although I can’t name everyone, I’d like to thank some of the people who helped me along the way. Without all of you, I don’t know where I’d be today.
My family: Thank you to my parents, sisters Beth and Katie, and brothers Kevin and Michael. You’re the ones who cheer me on during my successes and pick me up during my failures. You all have been my support system for 22 years, always there for me no matter what. I know I have my diva moments sometimes, so I can’t thank you enough for continuing to pick up my calls — even when I’m at my worst.
Christina: I really don’t think I could have survived the past four years without you. It’s rare to meet someone you just click with immediately, feeling like you’ve known each other your whole lives. I knew we were kindred spirits from the first day we met at candidate class and proceeded to walk a mile and a half back to East Halls. You made me feel comfortable enough that I could come out of my shell in front of others, making it easier for me to make friends. I know I will never be able to thank you enough for always being there for me.
Casey: I’ve always thought of you as a big sister. You’ve always pushed me to be my best, never accepting mediocrity because you know I’m capable of better. I’ll never forget watching you edit my writing for the first time – a piece on a Dr Pepper giveaway. I thought I’d done well, only to realize I still had a long way to go. Little by little, I began to stop making the same mistake until finally, I could do it without your help. I’ve always trusted your opinion and aspire to be a person of such integrity one day. I credit you for teaching me almost everything I know about journalism.
Carter: Thank you, thank you, thank you for being my first friend at Penn State. I always laugh when thinking about us playing Catch Phrase with our floor, both wondering if this was really what college was about. It was so much easier getting to know people because I knew you were by my side. We just get each other (case in point, Big Foot haha). You’re going to kill it next year in Chicago, and I can’t wait to visit because we always have a blast when we’re together.
Gina: I can’t thank you enough for showing me around Penn State and State College when we were in high school. If it hadn’t been for that trip, my last four years probably would have been much different. Our friendship has always been rooted in honesty, and I’m so happy to have you in my life to tell it how it is. I know when I’m having a hard day, I can turn to you for a talk (and baked goods). Also, thank you for introducing me to your family – football Saturdays would not have been the same without them.
And finally, Kevin: As I got to know you, I quickly began to realize that I couldn’t imagine my life without you. You’re the first person I call when I have good news, and the only person who can comfort me when I’m at my worst. You’ve changed me in the best way possible by believing in me and challenging me to be my best. You’re different than everyone else: You don’t baby me because you know I can stand on my own. I can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me these past two years.