Senior Column: There Are Far, Far Better Things Ahead Than Any We Leave Behind
Life is a constant state of transition. Whether we decide to accept that or not, the statement is ultimately true. I, for one, hate transitions. For example, I love Penn State. Truly, I do. I marvel at this beautiful campus on a daily basis, especially on days when the trees are just blooming and the skies are bluer than ever. But I haven’t always felt that way.
Moving from a quiet, little suburb of Philadelphia to a crazy, loud residence hall in a college town really threw me for a loop. I distinctly remember during my first semester as a freshman thinking, “I will never feel at home here.” Dorm life was not my thing. Putting myself out there to meet new people and make friends was definitely not my thing. Where would a shy, insecure freshman like me fit into a body of 40,000 students who were crazy about football and parties?
Little did I know that moving from high school into college would be only one of the many transitions I would experience throughout the next four years. Even though I didn’t feel like I belonged on this campus, I had no idea that everything I would experience would propel me forward on the path that had been planned out for me all along.
It took me until halfway through my sophomore year to figure out that Penn State had become my home. I fell in love with this town. Each semester I came back feeling more and more excited to walk to College Ave. for dinner with friends (or just Kiwi…), to the BJC for an amazing concert, to Beaver Stadium to support our football team, or to walk from building to building to, yes, actually go to class.
The summer before my senior year I was offered the opportunity to join Onward State as a photographer. This job turned out to be an amazing experience that allowed me to capture beautiful and impactful moments that only further confirmed my love for this school and this town. Where else can you turn around and snap a photo of dancers, in tears, opening their dancer mail on the floor of THON or the revealing of a jaw-dropping 12.3 million dollars raised for the kids? I will never forget taking hundreds of pictures of our football team at Rise and Rally last summer, all of them walking through a crowd that had been waiting since 4:30 a.m. to support them in their first practice before facing the most challenging season in Penn State history. Not only did I take those photos and share them with all of you, but I also have the memory, close to my heart, of each moment as it happened.
Along with all of those things, I fell in love with this town because of the people I met that made me feel at home. It was that spring semester of my sophomore year that made me realize that one of the most important things you can do in college and throughout the rest of your life is truly invest in your relationships with people. Find people that help ground you. Find people that remind you you’re going to be okay, that your past doesn’t define you, that you are loved. Do those very same things for them. You will change and grow in ways you never thought possible.
For the spring of my junior year, I shipped off to the south of France to spend the semester studying and traveling. Before I left, I started a blog to write about my experience prior to, during, and after my trip. Looking back on that blog, reminiscing about all of the amazing and very difficult experiences I had while I lived in France, I realized that my transition from high school to college, from freshman to sophomore, from sophomore to junior, prepared me for the intense move from the United States to Europe and back again. I learned that everything you go through is meant to prepare you for the next step in your life, and that’s why this quote from the Lord of the Rings will always stick with me:
“It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Bilbo Baggins knows what’s up.
I named my study abroad blog after that quote (“Keeping My Feet”), and my reasoning behind choosing that title still rings true today as I prepare to graduate in less than two weeks:
I am stepping onto a road that will lead me away from everything I’ve ever known. I will be challenged every day to “keep my feet,” or stand my ground in what I believe and who I am. I know parts of me will change after college, but ultimately I must remember where I come from, what I’ve learned, and who has made an impact in my life, and leave it in God’s hands to protect me and nurture me. Otherwise, there really is no knowing where I’ll be swept off to.
Yes, I know I’m only 21, so I have much more to experience beyond college, but these last four years have been the most formative years of my life thus far. While I have no idea what’s in store for my future, I can honestly say that my time at Penn State has been the stepping stone for learning to trust and know that change is necessary.
So don’t fear change. Embrace it. You’re learning, and therefore you’re growing. Don’t let the stress and anxiety of success prevent you from making friends that will last a lifetime. You are at an amazing university with a plethora of opportunities at your fingertips. Your very limited time here at Penn State is not a mistake. Have fun, (go abroad!!!), and I hope that our dear old State becomes the place you call home, if only for a little while.
Credit for the title of this post goes to a quote from C.S. Lewis.
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About the Author
The Nittany Lions participated in a max-out lifting session to mark the end of winter workouts.
Gaines was committed to the Nittany Lions for nearly a year.
Sophomore forward Tessa Janecke also earned CHA Player of the Year and Forward of the Year distinctions.