Two weeks from commencement and I can’t help but think about my first two weeks on campus. For me, being the only student from my high school‘s graduating class to attend UCR in 2013 meant that I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a blank slate, a fresh start and a college education. It was more than a school; it was a first taste of independence. I promised my parents I wouldn’t waste the opportunity. However, negativity tested my conviction soon after move-in day. Among the excitement and anticipation of those first two weeks, I came to intimately know the name “UC Rejects.”
That poisonous moniker claimed UCR couldn’t possibly be anyone’s first choice. It assumed we’d all been denied by every other school we’d applied to, that everyone had settled for UCR. The term “UC Rejects” dismissed everything the school had to offer before any of us saw it for ourselves, and ridiculed those who gave it a chance. I recognized the sentiment for what it was early on: Insecurity disguised as indifference and an attempt to diminish others’ experiences out of nothing more than self-dissatisfaction. The only ones who believed in it were those who cared more about prestige than the opportunities before them.
This doesn’t mean it didn’t affect me. While I tried to make the most of the city, I couldn’t deny the lifelessness that surrounded campus once class ended. Despite the energy that flowed through the HUB and gathered around the Bell Tower through the week, the dorms grew emptier with each passing weekend. Because of the ambivalence of others, I questioned if I had made the wrong choice in choosing this school. For long beyond my freshman year, I grappled with self-doubt and wondered if all those students who fled every weekend had been right all along about UCR.
After four years as a student here, I can say with certainty that they were wrong. UCR wasn’t my first choice, but that doesn’t mean anything; I never had a first choice. I came here in search of change and that quintessential college experience, complete with all the red Solo cups and existential crises, and it was here that I found it. It never mattered to me what city came after the UC in UCR. I know Riverside isn’t LA, nor Berkeley nor Santa Barbara. It’s a crowded desert city, hot from March to November with a sky that’s always pale with smog. I know the school should provide better financial aid, listen more to the student body and do a better job of conserving water. I know Riverside takes some getting used to.
But I also know we throw the best shows in the UC system. I know Riverside is in the heart of Southern California, an hour from the beach, two from Joshua Tree and is at the center of the most vibrant live music scene in the country. Because of my year as a campus tour guide, I know every resource, experience and opportunity available on our campus, and I haven’t forgotten that Barack Obama and Time Magazine ranked UCR the number one public university in the United States in 2015. I know how challenging our academics can be, how daunting the future looks to an incoming freshman, but I know that UCR provides everything we need to take it on.
Thanks to UCR, I’ve kept my promise to my parents. I’ve made powerful friendships and been exposed to ideas that have helped me to develop a greater empathy for others and awareness of the world around me. I’ve even traveled halfway around the globe through a study abroad program. As I step into the future, I have a million options open to me due in large part to the experiences I have gained from my time at UCR.
How you feel about college is a matter of perspective. Whether UCR was your top choice or your last resort, your experience here is determined not by where you are but by how you see it. “UC Rejects” is not an insult; it’s a mindset. You can choose to let it decide your experience for you, or you can forge your own path. In college, as it is in life, you get out what you put in. The key is to accept the college experience for what it is, and not your expectation of it.
In these final weeks, many of us might be itching to get out of the Inland Empire. Some of us might really miss it. I know I will. No matter what comes next, I won’t forget how far I’ve come since the self-doubt of my freshman year, and I’ll always be thankful to have decided early on that we are not the UC Rejects.