If you are lucky enough to have spent time -- roughly four to five years for most -- at a modern, North American university, you will discover a collection of interesting and meaningful facts about yourself and the world around you.
Four years at a medium- to large-sized university, in a town all but run by the student bubble and its student loan dollars, will provide you with a wealth of experiences by the time you leave. And those four years actually move by pretty quickly. Senior year feels miles away from freshman -- a fact you only appreciate from the graduating perch.
You will learn, if you look around come graduation day, that maturity is, in almost no way, a function of age.
You will learn that there is something quite romantic -- sexual even -- about two strangers holed up in the library come Friday night, so long as they never break that tension; that the cute librarian trope is true, everywhere. That honest-to-goodness productivity comes in momentary bursts, punctuating aimless pen spinning, Internet surfing and picking the gum off the underside of the table.
You learn the notion of serious, sustained mental effort over a period longer than an hour is purely fictional -- this is pretty much a universally true phenomenon. You will learn that if you listen closely, you can actually hear your coffee sizzle after a certain amount of time and consumption.
You will go in thinking, as movies and television have taught you to believe, that college is one big knot of pent-up sexual tension. You may have thought, going in, that the entire campus is one misplaced word, one long elevator ride or one lingering impulse away from breaking out in unrestrained orgy.
You will have learned that this is an utter delusion. Some nagging part of you will tell you otherwise, and that you missed out on something. Remember: delusion.
You will learn that people in college are obsessed with creating an image that vacillates between substantive and entirely carefree, and that people will go to great lengths to create both distance and closeness, often at the same time.
You will learn that there is a disheartening trend within college love and romance towards the banal, careless, casual and transient, but that its opposite – real, emotional, lasting love -- is possible, too; although, it’s often hard to recognize.
At the end of four years, you will believe one of two things: that true love is possible, realistic and oh-so-good, or that every love story is a ghost story. You will learn that a “date” is a wildly fluctuating term that really f*cking scares a lot of people.
Football games, pep rallies and pub crawls are all excellent ways to move outside yourself and be part of something maybe a little bit bigger, but homecoming has nothing to do with coming home.
You will find that walking home alone too many times will embitter you; that walking home with someone you desire will redeem you, for only a little while.
You may have learned that professors are really interesting people, and getting them to open up is a lot like getting anyone to open up; it comes with its rewards and anxieties.
That finding something to talk about with a professor will take you a great distance further than brightness and participation ever will. That eye contact, grammar and a firm handshake are all important.
You will have seen people come and go. You will know that it is permissible to let them in, and permissible still to watch them leave. You will have hopefully learned that people change, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not, and that letting them change is part of your new maturity.
That the smartest people in the room are often debilitating-ly addicted to their own thoughts. You will have learned the importance of trying to be still as a thousand thoughts race through your head. That between the ages of 19 and 24, even the warmest of moments sometimes have a ribbon of cold deep within them.
You will learn that libraries, bus systems and course schedules are never as convenient as you’d like and need them to be -- this will continue to confound you. That a kiss in a bar means something, to everyone, even if it has nothing to do with sex or romance.
That the coffee bar girls are some of the nicest, most beautiful people you will ever meet -- this is very similar to the way drug addicts talk about their dealers.
That there is nobility in staying true to yourself. That sleeping with someone you feel nothing for feels worse than not sleeping with anyone at all, but often not until afterwards.
That being a rebound had and will continue to have nothing to do with you. That unfairness can teach you. That all of these things are best learned through experience, and are not to be taken on anyone’s word alone.
That if you never lie, you never have to remember.
After four years of college, you will have learned that learning who you are not is a much more painful, but rewarding experience than learning who you are. You will have learned all of these things, maybe a bit more and maybe a bit less, but regardless, you emerge from the experience as a new person.
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