It was supposed to be the greatest four years of my life … at least, that’s what everyone kept telling me.
That entire summer preceding my freshman year of college, I couldn’t go anywhere without someone telling me how great things were going to be for the next four years. My mom told me practically every day how much my quality of life was going to improve simply by moving 90 minutes east and going to school.
My friends — none of whom were coming with me — tried to convince me of the same. Whenever I’d go out to buy things for my college dorm, I couldn’t get out of the store without someone — all of whom had nothing but the best of intentions — telling me I was about to go on a four-year journey that would forever change my life for the better.
And while I knew deep down they all meant well, I didn’t particularly want to hear it. (Besides, it turned out they were wrong anyway … it was the greatest five years of my life).
Leaving for college remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life, which is sort of odd, considering I didn’t particularly care for high school. Oddly enough, though, when four years of high school came to an end in the spring of 1992 I didn’t want to leave. I can only attribute this to Stockholm Syndrome.
I suppose it wasn’t just high school I didn’t want to leave, however. I didn’t want to leave home. I didn’t want to leave my parents or my friends. I didn’t want to leave the familiarity of doing the same things at the same places at the same time every Friday and Saturday night. I could practically set my watch to the time Hughes would pick me up in his parents’ metallic-green Buick, what time we would pick up Randy, what time we would hit McDonald’s and how much time we would spend cruising Troy before it was time to head back home.
I didn’t want any of that to change. I had a hard enough time meeting new people and making friends as it was (still do, truthfully), and I couldn’t imagine myself trying to do it at The Ohio State University on a campus filled with more than 50,000 students. College was a big, scary place.
Unable to control the forces of change, however, it eventually became my time to leave the same bedroom in which I had slept for the past 18 years and head off to college. I handled it about as well as could be expected, I suppose — I cried the entire way to Columbus. Then I cried a little while longer after my mom had left.
A funny thing happened to me on my path toward abject misery and loneliness, however.
Eventually, my tears dried and I began to see just how incredible the college experience — or, truthfully, any experience that requires moving away from home for the first time, whether it be by entering the military or work force — could be. I was fortunate enough to meet people I still consider some of my best friends and have experiences I never could have dreamed possible growing up in my hometown.
In the next few weeks, many 2017 high school graduates will be leaving for college, the military or just to find their place in the world. Some already have. I’m guessing that many of you are frightened about the changes and challanges you are about to face.
Lean in close and I’ll tell you a little secret about what’s about to happen to you: It’s OK. It will be fine. It will get better and you will get through this.
I’m not saying it’s necessarily going to be easy, because it won’t always be. You’ll trip and fall sometimes. There will be times when you are ready to throw it all away, pack up your stuff and move back home. There will be times when you miss friends and family members so bad that your body literally aches.
That’s all normal, too. The moment my mom dropped me off at college, I began counting down the days until I could come home again. Following my first Christmas break, I cried all the way back to Columbus (again). So trust me, you aren’t alone. And I promise, it will get better.
Have an open mind. You are going to meet a great many people who are unlike any you’ve ever met before in your life. Some of them will have very different ideas, morals and lifestyles than the ones to which you’ve grown accustomed. Some of those very same people will end up being like siblings to you. You’ll also grow apart from some of the people you thought would be lifelong friends when you were in high school. That’s all a part of growing up.
You’ll live. You’ll learn. You’ll love. You’ll change.
And if, after some time, you find your current surroundings aren’t for you and maybe it is time to come back home again, that’s OK, too. You’ll always be welcome there.
But I encourage you to give it “the old college try” (pun intended, obviously) before you throw in the towel. Be open to new things and new ways of thinking. Let your guard down just a little bit and let people into your life. You have much to offer and you’ll find they have much to offer you.
Relax and enjoy the ride.
It just may be the best four (or five) years of your life.
David Fong writes for the Troy Daily News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.