“The best four years of your life.”
When we were juniors in high school – dutifully studying for the SATs, sucking up to teachers to secure good letters of recommendations and sacrificing sleep for higher grade point averages – those six words kept us going. They were all we wanted to hear. College, those older than us promised, would be worth it. There couldn’t be a bigger or better reward for all the hard work we put in, and it would be right around the corner. College, they said, would be the best four years of our lives. As an alumna on the other side of those four years, I now find those words depressing, not motivating, and frankly childish – words from people older than me but not necessarily wiser. Their implication is that after graduation, nothing will live up to the years you spent as an undergraduate, and I refuse to believe this is true.
Life as a college student definitely has its perks, especially when you’re a student at an institution widely regarded as the best college in the country. But even Taylor Swift knows that years as an emerging adult can be tumultuous. In her song “22,” Taylor describes that feeling 22-years-old means feeling “happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.” When seniors at the College turn 22, I think it would be fair to say that most agree with Taylor when she says, “It’s miserable and magical.” The college years are ones of self-discovery; we make mistakes, we grow from them and we slowly we piece together our identities. Inevitably, some of those moments are going to cause confusion and loneliness in addition to the happiness and freedom that the journey is typically known for. They’re all significant parts of the process of learning about ourselves.
It’s important to recognize that most of us attend college when we’re still figuring out who we are. The better we know ourselves, the better we can take care of ourselves and do what makes us happy and fulfilled. Fortunately, getting to know ourselves is something we do our whole lives, and it’s something we only can get better at. It’s hard for me to believe that the four years that started with me as a 17-year-old matriculating freshman could possibly be more satisfying than any of the four years that I have yet to experience – ones that I’ll face with the nourishment of Williams already under my belt. Upon graduation, I stepped into the world equipped with, yes, a liberal arts education and, of course, a circle of friends I’ll have for the rest of my life. Armed with that, plus some knowledge of who I am, I’m much more ready to take advantage of the next four years than I ever was when stepping onto the College campus for the first time.
In its mission statement, the College states: “Ultimately, the College’s greatest mark on the world consists of this: the contributions our alumni make in their professions, their communities and their personal lives.” The College believes that the biggest impact we’ll have is as alumni and, as such, aims to prepare us for the challenges we’ll face upon leaving the Purple Valley. Our most fruitful years are yet to come, it suggests. To face these challenges and to better the world, young adults must be inspired, encouraged and stimulated, graduating hopeful for the future and ready to take on whatever it throws at them. That their greatest years are behind them is not the message we should be sending to young alumni whom we want to live long, full and satisfying lives. We shouldn’t let “the best four years” fallacy turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
With all that said, I get it. Nostalgia for our college glory days is a constant reality for young alumni struggling to find their places in the 9-5 world, a world featuring terrible roommates and dark clouds of thousands of dollars of student debt looming over them every time they purchase something. Like my high school self, I want to believe there is something to look forward to. I can’t have reached my prime yet. Class of 2016, we may have already finished four pretty sweet years as undergraduates, but we only have eight years left until we’re 30 (and flirty … and thriving).
Libby Dvir ’16 was a psychology major from New York. She lives in Medford, Mass., working as a residential advisor at a transitional home for adults with mental illnesses.