More than a GPA: What I would do differently as a first-year student

I’m sitting in the 24-hour reading room. One of my best friends from high school is beside me. As always, the room feels the most college-y of any on campus. Someone turned the fire on so we go towards it. We’re alone as we sit, chatting on the couch. He’ll be coming here next year and decided to spend the weekend visiting. He’s nervous about his first year so he asks me about my experience. We’re close so I’m honest with him.

“Honestly, it could have been better,” I say.

“How so?” he asks surprised.

“One thing I really wanted to do in college was have a bunch of adventures. You know, go to the city on a whim; go to some crazy parties; discover some cool secret with friends. I just wanted to have a bunch of stories to tell when it was all said and done. I did a lot of those things, but it would have been nice if more stuff like that had happened,” I said.

“Why do you think it didn’t?”

“I don’t know. A friend here jokes that I ‘know everyone on campus.’ Though this is obviously not true, I do know a lot of people. I mostly did that in the first semester by just talking to a ton of people, but I never really had the time to develop an intimate relationship. I was always going from some lunch, to some meeting, to some problem set, to some review session. Like a lot of people here, I was getting by on six hours or less of sleep, which definitely affected how much I cared about developing those relationships,” I said.

“What do you think you would do differently if you could do it again?”

I didn’t answer him that night, but I’ve been thinking about it since then. Last semester it was definitely all about the GPA for me, which I realize now is pretty stupid. I’ve talked to a lot of alums and they pretty much all say that in five or 10 years, no one will care about how well you did in your first semester economics class. This semester I’m trying to think a bit more like that and give myself some time to actually take care of myself. I’ve been trying to get to bed by 10 p.m., which seriously makes a huge difference. I’m also trying to think less in terms of classes and more in terms of what kind of experiences I want to come out of here with. I think it’s a lot more valuable for me to know what I really want and how to do whatever that is then it is for me to just focus entirely on the four or five classes I happen to be taking.

Now, I’m not saying that we should forget about our grades entirely. You come here because you want a degree and that obviously entails that you do well in your classes. Just like this place isn’t exclusively about academics, it isn’t exclusively about socializing. The people you meet here will probably be some of the most important in your life, but like everything else, it’s about balance, bro. You should limit the time you spend in the library, but you also need to space out your work and make sure you’re producing work you can be happy with.

Above all else, however, one needs to take care of oneself. You need to make sure you’re having fun while you’re here. If you aren’t having fun, this can be a really hard place to be. What that means exactly is something you’ll probably have to figure out for yourself. Whether it’s watching Netflix in your room, talking to some girl you like, playing some squash, or pickup soccer with your friends, we all need something here that we just do to relax. You’ll probably figure out pretty early that the more care you put into yourself the better things will be.

Josemaria Silvestrini ’19 is from Palm Beach, Fla. He lives in Williams Hall.

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