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Freshman 101: Our Penn State Newbies Look Back On Their First Year

Freshman year of college can undoubtedly be one of the scariest, craziest, and most wonderful years of anyone’s life. No matter how much they may have hated it in the moment, any graduating senior would tell you how much they wish they were a freshman again. With that in mind, our freshmen reflected on their first year at Penn State and shared what they learned along the way.

Jess Cartwright

I’m going to be completely honest: I did not want to come to college. It wasn’t Penn State; it was me. I felt like I wasn’t ready to leave home and my first semester definitely reflected my hesitation to embrace this new life experience. My second semester, however, went very differently. I joined the incredible Delta Gamma sorority, was hired at the one and only Onward State, and really started to feel like I fit in at this huge school. Overall, I’m glad I worked through my homesickness because, if it hadn’t motivated me to join other organizations, I never would feel as connected to Penn State as I do now. The friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had definitely go down in the books as some of the best in my life. I can’t wait to see what the next three years have in store.

Claire Fountas

I think there was always this naive little part of me that thought college would be perfect. To me, Penn State could do no wrong. This wasn’t just the change I wanted but the change I needed. Little did I know freshman year would end up being the most difficult year of my entire life. It’s like one moment I’d be crying because my best friends told me the world’s most hilarious drunk story, and then two seconds later I’d be crying at 3 a.m. with John Mayer’s “Heartbreak Warfare” playing in the background because I’d forgotten that paper was due. But my only regrets? Not saving enough Snapchats, not blocking that one guy’s number faster, and not using the good shower more often. Oh, and taking almost the entire year to figure out there’s a thing at The Mix called a “student discount.” That too.

Tim Reams

It’s pretty easy to start something like this off with the standard clichés and one-liners describing how this year was challenging and how I ultimately had the time of my life, but I’ve got to say, none of those Hallmark classics describe my freshman year at all. Instead I learned what it means to be entirely independent. Once you’re here, there is this defined independence that often goes unspoken. It isn’t found in a laundry room, dining commons, or in the library at 3 a.m. This independence comes from the moments when you hardly even realize it’s there. You find it in the moments when your mind seems anywhere but present — when you’re walking to class, brushing your teeth, or mindlessly arranging meetings with clubs and advisors — and you finally realize how much everything falls on you. My whole life, I was surrounded by a support system of close and amazing teachers, peers, friends, teammates, and family members who I now realize I took for granted. Now, I’m learning to do most things on my own. That was the biggest adjustment for me. I was so used to walking to class, eating lunch, doing homework, going home, and doing all of the little things in the day with someone, whether it be a friend or a teammate. Being a nervous person who often questions himself, I wasn’t really sure if I was doing this “independent adult” thing right, but I’ve grown to have confidence in myself, trust myself, and fully rely on myself. I’ve learned a great deal academically and socially this year, but I’ve found I have learned the most from the little moments of independence I took for granted my entire life. I wouldn’t go back on any of the lessons I’ve learned because they’ve set me up to (hopefully) be successful for the next however many years here at Penn State.

Claire Going

As soon as the nerves of leaving home and moving to a huge university drifted away, Penn State started to feel like home, and I never thought I could love a place as much as I’ve grown to love Happy Valley. I can say with confidence that the friends I’ve made this year who helped me get through the rough times will be my friends throughout the rest of my years at Penn State and beyond, and I’m so sad to say goodbye to some of the best people I’ve met whose time here has come to an end. I have mixed feelings about finishing freshman year. I’m extremely nostalgic about the fun experiences I’ve had and that one of four amazing years is already behind me, but I’m even more excited to start a new chapter sophomore year and study abroad in the spring. Overall, it was probably the most eventful year of my life, full of memories I’ll keep for a lifetime.

Olivia DeBellis

Freshman year — or, more accurately, a significant blur of “What the hell am I doing?” — has approached its final days. Frankly, I hesitate to pinpoint where exactly my time went. However, the lessons I’ve learned as a freshman — to be studious yet involved, to be independent yet connected, to be self-assured yet humble — are lessons I will carry with me always. As I stood on the floor of my very first THON, One Republic seemed to speak to me directly as they sang, “I hope that you spend your days, but they all add up.” There were big moments, like my first football game, my first set of finals, my first spring break — but the true significance of my freshman year came in the much smaller, seemingly irrelevant fragments of my everyday life, arranged piece by piece, that allowed me to build a home away from home here in Happy Valley.

Steve Connelly

The fact that I’m writing about my freshman year in the past tense feels surreal. It seemed like just yesterday I was moving into East Halls ready to start this adventure, but a week from now I’ll be saying goodbye to this unbelievable chapter in my life. Looking back, there are so many memorable days from this year. Of course the football gamedays, the nights out, and THON stick out. But also the nights spent with hanging with friends until 3 a.m. doing nothing more than talking and laughing in the dorms. To sum up my year at Penn State, all I can say is that I am blessed. I’m blessed to have met the great friends I have here. I’m blessed to have been assigned the greatest roommate of all time. I’m blessed to just be here. To think this wouldn’t have happened without the biggest blessing of all, a rejection letter from Rutgers, scares me. That forced me out of my comfort zone. It forced me to look elsewhere, for better options, and that’s exactly what I found. Penn State is truly the greatest school and I couldn’t be more excited for what’s ahead.

Maggie Wrobel

If I could sum up my first year of college in one corny quote it would be: “And I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn’t known before” (shout out to Penn State Thespians’ baller production of “Into The Woods” for the inspiration). As the first year of my collegiate studies draw to a close, I have come to the realization that in college, and maybe in life in general, everything moves quickly and change is the only constant. I have learned that your experience is what you make of it, and you have to find your own home within your school. I found Thespians, which reminded me why art is important and why the people you meet in theatre are lifelong friends. I also found Onward State, which showed me that it takes an army to run a blog, but the payoff is worth it all. I went into Penn State with practically no expectations which, allowed the school to live up to all of my hopes and more. I never thought I’d be the person to talk about how much pride they have for their school, but here I am, completely in love with Penn State. It’s been a great year. H.A.G.S.

Shawn McGinnis

When I first arrived at Penn State, I really didn’t know what to expect. My brother went to this school and absolutely loved it. So I followed in his shoes and decided this would be the school for me too. My first semester was rough; I didn’t quite fit in. It’s a rough transition going from high school where everyone knows your name to being nothing more than a face in the crowd at Penn State. Thoughts of transfer and relocation were undoubtedly on my mind.

Starting my second semester, I learned of Onward State. After making my way through the interview process, I earned a position on staff. This was without a doubt my best decision of my freshman year. The people I am surrounded with every day are like a second family. Each and every one of them reminds me why Penn State was the right university for me.

Any senior in high school that’s thinking of attending Penn State, or any university, take this advice: join clubs and organizations like crazy. Try new things and be adventurous. Finally, surround yourself with great friends, and you’ll have a freshman year that you will truly never forget.

Elissa Hill

I thought move-in day was the worst day of my life. In what seemed like billion-degree heat last August, unpacking my entire life into a room I’d be sharing with a stranger for the next nine months was anything but pleasant. To top it all off, I felt like I barely had the chance to say goodbye to my parents before being whisked into three hectic days of Schreyer orientation. Would I ever get the chance to breathe in this new home of mine? After that week, things (luckily) looked up, and I got a chance to breathe.

My first semester, I joined incredible organizations like the Performing Arts Council and walked in the nation’s largest student-run homecoming parade. My second semester, I left the country for the first time and joined Onward State, the best decisions I’ve made this year. Almost every time I meet someone who’s about to graduate, they can’t help but tell me how much they wish they were a freshman again. I’m sure I’ll say the same thing in a few years, but until then, I won’t waste one minute. They call this place Happy Valley for a reason.

Nick Weiss

I can’t say I’m going to miss East Halls. The sink vomit, unintelligible side conversation with intoxicated peers, the looming imposition of conformity, and bearing witness to the misdirection of squandered opportunity have all burned the freshman experience into my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love this school and everything it has to offer, but it didn’t take me long to understand the educational business model at Penn State that I’ve heard so much about. The Penn State social experience seems to be integral in this model, and I spent freshman year witnessing the captivation of my peers. I’ve talked to freshman in the recent past who wish they had gotten more involved, and that’s a shame, because there’s so much more to do at Penn State than party. There’s nothing wrong with partying, but college is a very unique time in our lives that deserves better stories than drunken ones. I definitely don’t want to be that depressed guy at a day job who spends his life telling high school kids that college is the best time in your life. A unique time, but hopefully not the best. Apparently I’m the only person who refuses to accept that. This is a time to make your bed, and that’s what I’ve tried to do this year. Joining this blog has been the best decision of my college career so far, but I’ve also joined other organizations and taken risks to learn as much as I can. And by risks I mean academic risks, and not partying on a Tuesday night. All I know is that I look back at my first year in college, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and how I’ve grown. And I’m being honest with myself when I say I’m excited for the challenges of next semester. I encourage all freshmen to asses that for themselves, too.

Gabriela Stevenson

When I sat down to write this for the first time, the first word that came to mind was “FINALLY!” I began to talk about how much I hated being a freshman, how much I hated taking pointless gen-eds, and how much I hated living in East Halls (that last one still rings true). Halfway through, though, I stopped myself. Why was I wishing away my freshman year? Why was I wishing away my precious time at Penn State? Needless to say, I deleted everything and thought back to this time last year when I made the official decision to come to Penn State. I couldn’t wait to sit down with my parents and officially become a Nittany Lion. Ever since then, I found myself mindlessly sitting through hours of class time, days of Netflix marathons, and weeks of hard work. Looking back now, I regret not indulging in all of the opportunities afforded because I was too busy pretending to be older, wiser, and more mature than I actually was. Now that I actually am older, I know I’ll never take my time here for granted every again. Freshman year taught me a lot of things, but most importantly it taught me that it’s okay to screw up. It’s okay to do things that are “so freshman.” On the rare occasion that I acted my age, people would tell me that I was so young and I had so much to learn. When I hear that now, I only feel excitement, because I get to learn in the greatest place on Earth.

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