College is the best way to humble someone. I found that out the hard way upon my arrival. I wasn’t dripping in arrogance or anything, but I underestimated the leap that college is from high school. In high school, every teacher I had during my senior year would forecast a troublesome path for me if I treated my college career with the same finesse I used in high school. “You won’t be able to cram,” they said. “Your professors only view you as a statistic, unless you go to them for further guidance in office hours,” they continued. Those were scare tactics that every teacher used before any moderate jump in the education system. “I guess. I’ll adjust accordingly,” I’d mumble in retaliation. Once fall of 2014 came, I was smacked with a heavy dose of reality.
It’s not as if my first year at UCR didn’t go well, it just didn’t go as smoothly as I thought it would. And that’s when I learned the first valuable lesson of my college career: Agency. Agency is important because without it, we’re just sacks of flesh aimlessly waiting for someone to make our choices for us. I still felt as though I could passively attend class, take moderately helpful notes and study for an hour before any test or quiz in order to excel. It wasn’t until I got a C- in CS 008, one of the easiest classes on the entire class roster, that I knew I had to make a change. That class shouldn’t have been as hard as my grade reflected, and truthfully, it wasn’t. I knew I would not make it to graduation if I continued this streak of “passive productivity” that I dubbed my lazy ways.
Second year came, and I thought I had been taught enough lessons from the previous year to give me a head start to excellence. And while my study habits became better, I started to bemoan my separation from my friends in the dorms we shared. They were my support system. Coming home from an arduous day of academics and ridiculous quizzes was all worth it when I spotted a friend to break the funk of my mood. This is when I learned the next salient lesson of my college career — independence. No two people in college will ever embark on the exact same trajectories, so people have to get acclimated to a constant revolving door of people who they may only need for a very finite amount of time.
My college experience for second year wasn’t as socially consistent as it had been during my first-year stay in the dorms, where it’s customary to band together in a social environment. As a second-year, I realized that taking ownership for my own successes was paramount. No one will ever know the depths of my desires and dreams except me. I had my own set of dreams and no one could endow me with a fastpass to those goals. No one can study for me or perform tests or quizzes in my stead. Conning my way through college was very possible, and as tempting as it was, I knew I could not evolve as a student until I faced challenges that broke my comfort zone.
Interestingly enough, my third year at UCR was filled with many academics highs. I managed to breach the dean’s list for my first time and give my cumulative GPA the boost it was thirsting for. But in the pursuit of academics, I begin to lose track of something important: My mental health. This year’s lesson was all about learning how to become selfish in times of need. Self-love is the best kind of selfish. It took for me to be spread too thin across my newspaper assignments, academics and the passing of my grandmother for me to realize that. I couldn’t possibly expect to do well in school when my mental wellbeing was in limbo. No matter how much I craved the vigor of success, I knew it wasn’t a sustainable goal unless my mind and body had synergy. In order to correct this, I made sure I invested in activities that would help me destress like buying slimes online for autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) therapy and reading good books. I also made it a habit to look in the mirror daily and ask myself if I did something good for myself for that particular day. Mental health became an important thing to maintain after that.
As I’m a little more than halfway through my final year at UCR, I think a lot of things have come full circle. This year is about making that dash to home base with your head held high and your GPA even higher than that. One of my fondest memories of UCR will always be the diversity and ambience on campus. There’s a certain type of life that emanates from this campus that makes me feel optimistic about the future of higher learning institutions. But above all else, I have pride in myself that I was able to conquer an institution that seemed so massive and scary when I started. Now it feels like I’ve outgrown the school and I’m looking at it on an even playing field. There is no evolution to be had with safe bets and modest hops. Sometimes it’s up to us to leap into uncharted territory and let our hearts maneuver the rest of the way.