Senior Send-off: Lessons from my friends

Then + Now

This year, I wrote a lot about sex and love. But for my senior sendoff, I’d like to write about something different — friendship. At Brown, I learned all sorts of things. I mastered three languages, grasped how to interpret financial statements, and practiced how to structure a screenplay. Yet, the most significant lessons I will take with me as I leave came neither from books nor professors, but from my friends.

Like many seniors, I think about the future and I’m terrified. I’ll be moving to a big scary city, famous for its entertainment, bagels, and world-class lunatics. If I don’t pay my bills, ResLife won’t be there to keep the heat on. And, hey, what do I do if the toilet gets clogged, anyway? But these worries are just part of the story. Truly, I’m most anxious that I won’t make friends — or at least, that I won’t find friends like the incredible ones I’ve found here. When I move, there will be no ice cream social, no Unit Wars, no superficial forms of forced group bonding. It’s up to me to make friends and that’s pretty freaking scary.

But I remember what Brown has taught me: If I believe I can make friends anywhere I go, then I really will make friends everywhere I go. I had these same doubts when I first moved into Pembroke. But sure enough, I made friends. I truly believe there is something about saying – believing – these words that works. When we know that we are worthy people, others find us irresistibly attractive to befriend. I carried this attitude with me when I studied abroad in France. And if I could successfully make friends with some of the most closed, American-hating-est, generally unenthusiastic populations in the world, then I believe I can make friends anywhere.

My friends and I often say that we were the lucky ones to find the coolest friends on this campus. It makes me happy to know that other students feel the same way about their friend group. Even in a pool as small as ours at Brown, I was able to find a handful of really special people to connect with. The real world is a much bigger place, so I have faith that there is more of this magic out there. I am prepared to make room for new people in my life. As my mother likes to say: “There’s a pot for every lid.” As quirky as you are, there are new friends waiting to meet you outside these gates.

Finding friends is just part of the story. When I arrived at Brown, I had the idea that friendship was easy. You lived your life and friends were people you brought along when you wanted to do something in the company of others. But Brown has taught me that friendship shouldn’t be a noun, but an action.  We emphasize making friends, meeting people, befriending another. But then once we do these things, well then, we… are a friend. We give little attention to the constantly evolving, challenging, frustrating and rewarding process that is friendship. There were friends I met early at Brown who voiced needing more from me. I wasn’t giving them enough back. I grew tired of their complaints. I thought friendship was supposed to be effortless. I let these people down; I was wrong. Friendship is hard work and for those who you care about, it’s well worth it.

My freshman year, I cast my net wide. I went to many parties in many basements and many lunches at the Ratty with many different faces. It’s a pleasant experience to walk through the Main Green and say hi to what feels like a lot of people. When I studied abroad in France, I missed my friends, but I found I did not miss all of them equally. Being cut off from my life at Brown gave me a taste of what really mattered. So when I came back, I instead cast my net deep. Now I only spend time with the people who matter.  With truly great friends, life changes from a pleasant experience to a deeply fulfilling one. Like my grandmother told me at 78 years old, near the time of her death: You’re lucky if you can count your good friends on one hand.

When I came back to Brown from study abroad, I found my best friend had been replaced. Gone was the shy, sweet girl who preferred to stay in and read. In her place was a party girl who wore tight clothes, liked to drink more than I ever remembered, and who was calling the shots. It was a weird transition. I felt replaced. I felt abandoned. But then I realized this new look suited her. Damn, she was rocking it, and she was happier than I had ever seen. It’s much like friends who drop off the face of the earth when they get a boyfriend or girlfriend. We’re sad to see them go, but if we’re good friends, we give them the space they need. They’ll come back eventually. Friends change — if it makes them happier, let them.

When times are good, it’s easy to be someone’s friend. You laugh, you party, you share funny stories. Good for you! But the true test of friendship is when things are no longer easy. I went through a tough semester of heartbreak that involved a lot of crying. Some of my friends grew tired of my bad moods and walked away. One morning, I couldn’t find the energy to get out of bed. I heard a knock on my door. One of my friends entered, sat quietly on the edge of my bed, and offered me a cup of FroYo with my favorite toppings. It was a simple gesture. But it filled me with deep gratitude and I can only hope that this person will be my friend for many, many years to come. My friend taught me something new that day: Sometimes being a good friend means just being present, without doing or saying anything.

My friends have Brown have also taught me this — the closer you are with someone, the harder it is to watch him/her make bad choices. One of my best friends was in a rollercoaster of a relationship. This guy was a real jerk and did not deserve her. I watched in disbelief as our other friends listened sympathetically as she cried. “It’s a difficult situation,” one said. “Yeah, but maybe he didn’t mean it that way,” another added. How could these people encourage this? How could they sit around so passively? And then I realized — it’s easy to withhold judgment when it’s not your closest friend. When you listen to a friend, not a best friend, your friend’s drama is simply another story, as if you were hearing fiction. Naturally you privilege the details of our own life above theirs. But when your closest friend is being mistreated or has made poor decisions, his/her stories can make you instinctively emotional. This reaction comes from a source of deepest, parental-like love.

I also learned from my friends that even if we can see them making the wrong choices, we can never protect our friends from harm. Help your friend by making your suggestion, but say it only once. You only have to voice your opinion once — your close friends are listening. If they don’t follow your advice, it’s not because they didn’t hear you. It’s because they need to learn from their own mistakes in their own time. In the end, all we can do is offer our words and quietly let them know that even when they choose not to follow them, we are still there with tissues and  shoulder  to cry on.

Learning to care for the wonderful friends I’ve made at Brown has helped me make better decisions in my own life. Sometimes when I am faced with a tough personal decision, I ask myself: “If I were my friend, what would I tell her to do?” When we grow to love our friends so deeply, we wish only good for them, in ways we can’t even will for ourselves. I like to think about myself as my own friend. It helps me make better choices, because I make them out of a place of love.

I’m young and I have yet a great deal to learn about life. I don’t claim to be a perfect friend. I know I’ve made mistakes and hurt my friends. For that, I’m sorry. But my true friends have stuck with me through all of this and to them, I say: thank you. I’ll never forget the lessons I learned with you by my side here at Brown.

Until next time,
HHP

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