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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student


OPINION: What do you mean these are my best years?


Over spring break, I did some spring cleaning in my childhood bedroom. While sifting through crumpled Homecoming t-shirts and old stuffed animals, I stumbled upon my cap, gown and cords from graduation. I was immediately taken back to the countless hours of studying and late nights of cramming for tests, the dramatic breakups and fights with friends that once seemed like the end of the world and, of course, graduation.  

My high school graduation was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was excited to begin a new chapter in my life and see where it would take me. On the other hand, it didn’t quite feel like the achievement I believed it would. Everything had come to what felt like an anti-climactic end.  

I still remember the moments after the ceremony, once the pictures were taken and all the relatives went home, and I was left sitting alone in my cap and gown thinking: “That’s it?” 

On top of everything, I couldn’t shake the feeling it was wrong to feel that way in the first place. If these really are the best years, why didn’t it feel that way?  

I, for one, have never been a fan of the idea that college is the last time you’ll ever have fun, and the minute you graduate and get a real job, you’re stuck in the corporate hamster wheel until you die. There is beauty in creating a life that is enjoyable at every stage, a life where you don’t constantly feel the need to escape. 

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The concept that there is one idea of a “college experience,” and if you’re doing anything else or not having the time of your life, you’ve failed, is a falsehood. The college experience is what you make it to be, and only you have the power to decide what that means. 

High school, graduation, the start of college and everything that follows comes with a lot of societal expectations about what this time in our lives should look and feel like. Some of the most bothersome can include how soon you should be getting that internship, meeting the love of your life or finding the perfect friend group.  

While it’s not wrong to want these things, the expectations that come with them can be unrealistic and burdensome. Living with these imaginary deadlines can cause unnecessary stress and even life-altering decisions just because you're afraid of the time running out. Living up to the fantasy we’ve invented in our heads can be a lot of pressure, which is why it's important to remember it's ok not to feel like you're living your best life all the time. Needing to be perfect never got anyone any closer to achieving it, and the same goes for how we live our lives.  

I think movies and social media are partial to blame for curating the idea these years need to be “High School Musical” worthy. If scrolling through your For You Page and seeing countless videos of your peers living it up has ever made you feel a little bit sad about staying up late with your chemistry homework, you're not alone. More importantly, your experience isn't any less valid just because that’s not what you see on your screen. Growing up with these expectations and constantly seeing them on our socials can leave us with a sense that we’re missing out on something that never really existed.  

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That feeling of missing out isn’t based in reality. Neither is the idea that these four years need to be the best years ever.  

One of these “missing out myths” is having a long-distance partner will somehow diminish your college experience. I can’t believe how many people decide to break off relationships right before they leave for college, as if being single is in any way a prerequisite for having a good freshman year. I started my senior year of high school swearing I wouldn’t get myself stuck in a relationship or doing long-distance in college. As luck would have it, I managed to achieve both before college applications were even due. Almost three years later, and there’s nothing I would have done differently. Long distance is hard, and even though he’s a Boilermaker, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

It's crucial to recognize there is no one-size-fits-all definition of success or fulfillment that defines the college experience. Whether it's navigating long-distance relationships, adjusting to college life or finding joy in the post-graduation journey, everyone's path is unique. What matters is learning how to embrace diverse experiences and forge a life that aligns with what matters to you!  Ultimately, the college experience is what we make of it and choosing authenticity and self-discovery over societal expectations leads to a life rich in meaning and contentment. So, when you're looking back at your college cap and gown years from now, I hope you're reminded of a time well spent, and everything that means to you.  


Ainsley Foster is a sophomore studying elementary education. 

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