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I’ve just graduated from CMC. The thought of no longer being a student is surreal. College has been an unexpectedly beautiful journey but also a very bumpy one, with mixed emotions throughout. When I think back on my time here, about the difficult patches and the self-doubt, I remember that the reassurance I heard from peers was rarely what I needed. I don’t know how much I would change about my college experience, but there are definitely a few things I wish I could go back and tell myself. Since I can’t do that, I’ll share what I’ve learned with you instead, in the hopes that it might be of some help over your next three and a half years here.

1) It’s okay not to be okay

In high school, I was the guy known for getting along with almost everyone and for finding friends in the most unlikely of places. Yet, I initially found making close friends at CMC immensely difficult. Coming in, I had never visited the school, and I didn’t know any other students at CMC or the Claremont Colleges. Heck, I didn’t even know of anyone from my state at the Claremont Colleges (one of the few downsides of being from Iowa).  I opted not to go on a WOA trip, leaving me excluded from what little social organization existed among incoming freshmen. The few people I knew felt more like acquaintances and less like people I could count on.

This mix of emotions was couched in the persistent reminder that I was attending “The Happiest College in America.” I’ve heard that phrase less frequently in the last two years, and I’m hoping that it stays that way. Being unhappy at a school that carries that mantle can make you question your wellbeing and sanity all the more.

I took a leave of absence in the spring of my freshman year and had some time to reflect. Being at home reminded me of my support system and gave me the strength I needed to return to campus. When I told people of my issues fitting in, they’d usually tell me: “Don’t worry, it’ll get better.” As the months went on, I wasn’t always sure of that. What I rarely heard, and what I needed to hear, was that it’s okay not to be okay.

2) Try to develop as a person

CMCers often try to hit the ground running coming into college, joining every student organization under the sun, applying for on-campus jobs, and attending career events even when they only matriculated 3 weeks ago.

It’s easy to get caught up in the academic/pre-professional cycle and let personal development take a back seat in college. When there’s barely enough time to scarf down a meal replacement from the Hub before rushing to your next 3 hours of meetings, who has time to set personal goals and reflect on who they are? It’s especially easy to let this slide because personal development can be a passive process; as different things happen to us, we respond to them, thereby often developing unconsciously into the people we are.

Trying to shape who you are dynamically and with intention is much harder. Evaluating areas for personal development, what you want your relationships to look like, and what you admire about others’ personalities can be immensely daunting. These areas have little measurement, are highly subjective, and force you to explore who you are and what you value in a way that can be uncomfortable. This is arguably more personally challenging than trying to reach an academic or professional goal. Throughout college I’ve typically tried to emulate my classmates’ intelligent comments in class or learn from their writing style, but far less often have I tried to be like those who I admired in terms of their thoughtfulness, kindness, or empathy. I’ve often admired them from afar without trying to better myself through their examples––something I wish I had done more while at CMC.  

3) Don’t be afraid of the next big adventure

In the last few months I’ve seen some amazing examples of technology being used to improve the lives of people around the world and as a result, I have become fascinated with the social applications of technology. It’s the most excited I’ve been about learning in years, and it’s forced me to pause and reevaluate what I want to do as a career and what I want to learn in the future. Especially at a school where there’s so much pressure to have a (prestigious) job lined up as early as humanly possible, finding a new interest so close to graduation feels somewhat terrifying; the thought of changing all the plans I had made for myself is daunting. Still, I try and remember the advice given to me by friends who graduated last year and alums from decades ago: your education does not end here. Even after graduating, your journey is only beginning. Even if you graduate knowing exactly what you want to do, it’s important to try to be comfortable with uncertainty: it’s what adds more paths to the journey and makes taking a risk for the adventure all the more worthwhile. I know your time here at CMC has only begun, but believe me, it’ll fly by before you know it. Try to savor it, but rest assured knowing there is a whole world out there to learn from, and that the next big adventure is likely right around the corner.