At the end of my sophomore year, I found myself sobbing into a cup of pudding at the Ratty.
Of course, by then, I had cried plenty of times. But this was the first time in college I’d ugly cried in public. I didn’t have the privacy of my room, or the drunken mutual understanding of a Keeney stairwell on a Saturday night: I was sitting immediately next to the apples and bananas, and I was crying. Audibly. Anyone trying to refill their coffee would have definitely heard my stifled sobs. They maybe would have even noticed the tears streaming down my face, splashing into vanilla custard.
This send-off isn’t about defining success or embracing uncertainty or taking active control of your happiness. Many bloggers have written about these topics—far better than I could. This send-off is about the low points of college.
Graduation is all too often a time when smiling is mandatory, and nostalgia overshadows reflection. The story of the past few years isn’t so neat, though. Success was not always inevitable, or expected. Not every pain became a teachable moment.
I want to talk about the low points, though, because they taught me that it’s okay to ask for help. As I was sitting in the Ratty, all I could worry about at the time was all the different ways I had already failed. I didn’t know what I was doing that summer, or where I was living. Switching majors was a terrible idea, and I’d never catch up to everyone else. My classes were tanking, and I was so behind in lecture that I didn’t even know how to be wrong anymore.
Going to Brown means being surrounded with constant success and achievement, and that kind of environment can make failure seem that much more terrifying. For me, it seemed like everyone had started the race, and I still hadn’t tied my shoes. I didn’t even know where the finish line was.
But I know now that it’s okay to not know all the answers. This was the best advice I ever received in college. Yes, I was surrounded by people who do amazing things, just as a part of their daily routine, but they all had help along the way. They all weren’t alone in this, and neither was I.
The help might not always be obvious or apparent, but it’s there. Of course, there are the mentors and tutors—the army of TAs, Writing Fellows, and Meiklejohns, who all do tireless work. But there are also the random strangers, hall-mates, and friends. These are the people who take the time to work through a problem set or teach you how to slack line. These are the people who deliver late night baked goods to the library, sometimes even fully clothed.
I don’t think this is some happy accident. There’s something about College Hill that makes students want to give back: helping each other is how we connect to this campus. And that’s incredibly reassuring. When we’re surrounded by such success and passion, we don’t respond with competition. We don’t respond by being cutthroat, by sizing each other up, or tearing each other down. We respond by asking, “How can I be a part of this?”
So even if you might be able to make it on your own, ask for help anyway. Reach out. People want to help. Ask for help, and give people the privilege of getting to know you a bit, of being a part of this campus.
Looking forward to life beyond the Van Wickle Gates, I’ll be the first to admit I’m anxious about the future. At any given moment I’m stressed over questions like “How do we avoid becoming complicit in systems of oppression?” or “What if my toilet clogs at 2 a.m.?” I’m worried about not having enough drive or social graces. I’m worried about failure and about not being enough.
And you know what? I think I’m okay with that for now.