5 Years of First Days

Fresh(man) Perspective - Ray Ajemian

Even though most of us refuse to admit it, being a college freshman is pretty scary. College is supposedly the start of our free adult lives, but it’s easy to forget that while being shuffled around to various mandatory welcome events, so it wasn’t until classes started that I realized I was really and truly “on my own”. I say that not just in the sense of responsibility; my college debut was also accompanied by a sense of loneliness. I’d navigate my way to class with nobody but Google Maps by my side. When hunger struck, I would find an empty table to eat at, lest I barge in on any pre-existing circle. Finally, I could return to the dorms to work (I kept my door open, as so many have urged us to do, but to no avail).

Then came Festifall. In an instant, I was surrounded by a thousand and one groups that were full of people who shared my interests, and twenty thousand more that weren’t. I just had to find them, and I did; culture clubs, activists, support groups, publications (including the one you’re reading right now!), clubs I had heard of, clubs I hadn’t. To anybody in the same boat as me these past few weeks – freshman, transfer student, or otherwise – I urge you to do the same. I’m confident in saying that of the 1,600-some student organizations here, you’re bound to find at least one you like. Yes, that means meetings cutting into your free time, but it’s better than the solitary confinement of your dorm every night.

Sophomore Perspective - Jena Vallina

Adventure. Friendships that will last a lifetime. An epic love story, cast in the amber glow of the State St. Theatre matinee. These are all things I will probably have to add in if I ever try to put the story of my freshman year to paper. But as I’ve rather recently come to realize, nothing is ever quite as beautiful as we make it out to be within our minds.  Unless you are one of the odd folk who think crying in your room and realizing with utter profundity that no, it is not your environment that has prevented you from fitting in all these years, it is something innate within you that you will never be able to change no matter how hard you try is worthy inspiration, I would not be running to share my story with any incoming students. Nobody really wants to hear that, and I suppose I cannot blame them. The world is hard enough without me barging in and declaring to the bushy-tailed next generation that dreams don’t actually come true and everything you think you love you will grow to hate, and that some people in the world will forever be on the outside of the Alpha Gamma Phi party that is life.  

But I swear I’m not going to depress you, just as I swear I will not try to paint over the storm cloud with any well-intentioned roses. Because I feel that would be a disservice, and because I don’t want to pretend that I spent even half of last year feeling close to happy. Finishing my freshman year was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life, and coming back here for my sophomore year the second. To live with mental illness is akin to hearing, day after day, how amazing this one song is! Everyone loves this song, it’s their very favorite song, they could listen to it all day long and why don’t you try it too? And because you so very much seek to be part of the everybody who loves that song, you give it a try, and find that the music is needles to your ears. But everyone who listens to it loves this song, and you just can’t understand why it hurts so much for you. You tell yourself, just don’t listen to it. Nobody’s making you. But it’s near impossible to plug your ears when they are all singing on the top of their lungs, drowning you out. Nobody wants to be the contrarian who interrupts the merrymaking and says, “Actually, this kind of sucks. I’m in a lot of pain right now.” So you pretend to hear what they hear, and you try to sing along but every word is an insurmountable mountain and it is impossible to stay in tune. 

I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t dreading my second year. But I’m also not going to say that I don’t want to be here, because I do, and I will never say that I am not going to try. I believe, perhaps foolishly and almost definitely naively, that this might just be my year. I believe that because I have to, because it helps me sleep, and because I need to know that I am where I have to be and that all that has happened in the past is leading me to somewhere where I might reach some semblance of satisfaction. For some people, none of this will ever be applicable. College might be all that you dreamed. You will hit all the right notes. But to those who look into reflections and question the face they see, to those for whom their best days are the days in which nothing happens at all, I want to say: it is enough to just be. You do not have to love what they love or be happy when everyone else is, because the truth is that for them there is no song. The only ones who know that there is a rhythm are the ones who have been deafened to it, as only they can see all the ways in which they are unable to keep up. I want to say: you don’t have to keep up. Sometimes it is enough to just survive to the end. It won’t look the same on the outside, but all the beautiful things I’ve ever loved are breakable, and in the end we keep what we make of the universe we are given.  I cannot know how this year will go for any of us. But I hope that when it ends, we will all look up at the same moon, full with the knowledge that it shines differently for each of us.

Junior Perspective - Ashley Bond

When I started at the University of Michigan as a freshman, I was a ball of nerves, curious, and fearful of what the next four years of my life would bring. Starting sophomore year of college, I only felt pure excitement to be back in Ann Arbor, back with my friends, back to football games and school spirit, and of course back to the work-hard play-hard environment that the University of Michigan is so often known for. Now, here I am, back to school again, but this time as a junior. My feelings going into junior year are much different than they were as an incoming freshman and sophomore. By now, I am familiar with the campus, how university classes work, and how many different emotions college students experience throughout a year (I have almost momentarily transitioned from laughing with friends to having an absolute mental breakdown more times than I care to recall). Therefore, my usual apprehensiveness at the start of classes has now been replaced with tension and annoyance. I know that junior year will probably be the most difficult of my four college years. Junior year is when grades really matter, when everyone competes for prestigious jobs and internships, and people constantly pester you about what you are going to do after college. For me, junior year is all about survival.

Senior Perspective - Liz Fernandez

Why the fuck am I anxious? I’m holding a Panera sandwich in my right hand and maneuvering my car with the left. A handsome, smart, finance dude from New Jersey, who I still can’t believe dates me by choice, is flicking through podcasts next to me. Thank God freshman year is over. Heck, even sophomore year. I’m finally going back to a place where I know I am loved and where I love others. I am taking classes I love with people I enjoy. I am secure and comfortable and happy. So then why can’t I just focus on my caprese sandwich? It’s because I freak out with any change ever — good or bad, the feeling of not knowing stirs an anxiety that I can’t really control. Will people notice I gained weight abroad? Will they all talk about me? Will they still like me? Did I get dumber from essentially doing nothing besides drinking Malbec and eating steak from January to May? Are people going to ask if I got a return offer? 

This is what my anxiety tells me to listen to. My anxiety doesn’t let me think: If they talk, who cares. I’m finally going back to a place where I know I am loved and where I love others. I am taking classes I love with people I enjoy. I am secure and comfortable and happy. When these negative thoughts surface, all I can do is suppress them and wait for my CAPS appointment. My thoughts are irrational. My dumbass brain tricks me into being sad. 

My anxiety will always tell me that something is wrong when it isn’t. But, nonetheless, I want little freshman Liz to know that senior year is truly all she hoped it would be and so much more (so far, anyway). I want to tell her how happy she is. I want to tell her that she is finally going back to a place where she knows she is loved and where she loves others. She is taking classes she loves with people she enjoys. She is secure and comfortable and happy.

Graduate Student Perspective - Jenie Li

Everyone always talks about how terrifying the real world can be after you leave the bubble of university. When I decided to return to the University of Michigan for the Master of Accounting program, everyone was telling me how lucky I am to be returning to college and effectively avoiding the adult life. What everyone fails to notice or mention is how utterly shocking it is to return to your usual stomping grounds without all of the familiar faces. The friends I spent four years becoming closer with were all off enjoying their adult lives. Thankfully, the program is full of amazing people who I’ve already been connecting with. It’s just a very different feeling walking through campus this year. Everywhere I look brings back fond memories of friends who aren’t on campus, all while I’m making new memories with new friends who are here.