College Wasn’t the Best Four Years of My Life, And I’m Thankful
Updated: Feb 8
May 9th, 2020 was supposed to be the day I put on the black cap and gown and braved Memorial Stadium with the 9,993 other IU seniors. It was supposed to be the final day I was a student, ever. It was supposed to be full of pictures with friends, drinks at my favorite Bloomington bars, drives past my old apartment/dorm and classrooms. It was supposed to be a lot of things, but in the end, it was supposed to be happy. Bittersweet, at least. A nice little epilogue in the college chapter of my life, like closure at the end of a relationship.
It wasn’t any of these things. It would be easy to chalk it all up to COVID-19, because for a lot of people, I’m sure that’s the main reason Graduation Day wasn’t as they’d dreamt it to be since the moment they received their acceptance letters. But I’m sitting on the patio of my childhood home, having spent half the day wishing I was in Bloomington, even if it’s deserted, and half of it wondering why I’m so sad those days are over when, in reality, my time at IU was anything but picturesque.
My friends and extended family get to see the highlight reel of my time on social media. My first tailgates Freshman year, wearing new IU gear and donning crimson face paint. Sophomore year putting together news broadcasts and throwing a Little 500 party (something I would NEVER have done on my own in high school). Making Internet friends Junior year and celebrating the Olympia/my 21st birthday in Vegas. And Senior year, bouncing from one European country to the next while studying abroad in London, only to finish my final (shortened) semester in Los Angeles.
It’s easy to look at my four years and glamorize what they were like, but I’d be lying if I said I thought these were going to be the best years of my life.
The first semester of my Freshman year was nothing short of a good time. I had a solid friend group, my roommate and I became close, I learned the ups and downs of this thing called alcohol, and I developed school pride like I’d never had before.
I’ll look back on Freshman year and try to think of the good things. The night my crew headed to a party and we crammed so many people into one car that three of us were stuck in the trunk, one of them being me, and we blasted “Caroline” by Aminé as we complained about no leg room.
The time my friend was so drunk at the football game we had to form an escape plan so we could get him home before the cops saw.
The time I won a five-minute interview with abduction survivor Elizabeth Smart after waiting until everybody left her speaking event and I begged her for a quick word.
The time my friend and I rubbed shoulders with these frat guys who lived at house “305,” and we partied at their place endless weekends, sometimes getting so hungry we’d eat the only thing in the fridge - slices of plain Wonder Bread.
That was the first semester. And it was everything I wanted college to be. But then I went back to campus for Sorority Rush over Winter Break, and everything spiraled down.
I’d convinced all my friends to do it with me, even though they were all on the fence. We braved the freezing cold days we were made to line up and shiver for an hour outside the houses, listen to dumb chants, and have fake conversations with girls who wrote down superficial facts about us to determine if we were “a good fit.” My friends all got houses, but I didn’t. Heartbroken enough already, I had to come back to school that Spring semester hearing them talk about what they were going to wear to their new Greek parties. If you weren’t in Greek life, you weren’t invited. They apologized, and I knew they meant it, but I was left without a friend group in the midst of the freezing start of January. One of my “friends” even told my other friend that she didn’t “f*ck with me anymore,” because I wasn’t in a sorority.
I spent a lot of weekends home with my parents, resenting Greek life, throwing myself into fitness and demonizing partying, because if I couldn’t go out with my friends, I would make it my choice. Not the system’s. At least, that’s what I told myself to stay sane.
My Sophomore year started off on the wrong foot. (That’s a nice way to put it.) I’d spent all summer working and preparing for a bodybuilding fitness competition, which meant I couldn’t go out to eat with friends, got weird looks when I brought a water gallon with me to parties and passed on the vodka, and spent more money on posing practice than I did shopping with friends.
By the time I got to school, my social life went back to Square One. I was caught up in a mentally-abusive relationship until after my bodybuilding competition, when my ex packed up and disappeared from my life three days before my birthday. My roommate, who I thought was becoming a good friend, was dealing with her own issues, and wasn’t emotionally available for me. I was put in the middle of some of her personal life problems, and it drove me into a dark place.
I started realizing late that semester that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I was lost without working toward my fitness competition anymore, and felt myself going into a negative headspace I hadn’t yet encountered. I was becoming reclusive, avoiding socialization to every extent.
At the end of that semester, I had a “friendship break-up” with one of my only friends at the time. We were both in it for the wrong reasons. I told her our relationship was shallow, and she told me if I wanted to see her again I’d have to be the one to reach out.
My roommate dropped out of IU and I found out through her mom - we weren’t on speaking terms. I thought this would be great for me, considering we’d been tip-toeing around each other for months. Instead, I fell into a deep hole of depression. I lived alone, so no one saw me spiraling. I had Mono and couldn’t stay awake for class, much less get to class. My mom picked me up multiple times and took me back to the house because I couldn’t take care of myself. I even went to the ER at one point because I became so dehydrated.
When I fully recovered from Mono, I found that binge-eating was the only way I could feel some sense of happiness. I gained around 25 pounds in two months. I stopped going to the gym. I would go to the grocery store, buy as many donuts as I could, along with sushi and usually candy, and then I’d drive home and sit on my bed and binge-eat them until the sugar made me pass out. (One time I didn’t even make it home. I ate everything in my car and then fell asleep in the backseat, because I couldn’t stay awake to drive.) On days I did get back to the apartment, I’d wake up and watch 90210 and then spend the night tossing and turning and wishing I could get a solid eight hours in.
My parents got worried. My grades started dropping. They came down to get me groceries and asked me when was the last time I showered, and I couldn’t tell them. I remember avoiding mirrors at all costs because it terrified me to see my reflection. I had days I felt normal, then days I felt so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed, other than to use the bathroom. Then I had days I called “Numb Days,” where I felt absolutely nothing - good, bad, nothing. I would see my parents’ names light up on my phone screen and I would decline the call without a second thought.
My grades were so bad I had to consider dropping the semester. I remember being at home one weekend and my mom saying, “You seem so much better now,” and me breaking down and telling her I needed to get on medication - the opposite of what she was thinking.
The turning point in that year was the Arnold Fitness Expo. I was so depressed I didn’t want to go, even though my trip was already booked. My mom thought being around all those fit people would be awful for my mental health, since I’d gained so much weight. But last minute I threw my stuff in a suitcase and I got in the car. For a weekend, I had a schedule again. I had a place to be and a time to be there. I met one of my best friends, Clare, who played a huge role in helping me recognize myself again.
Just a couple weeks after the Arnold Expo, right as things started looking up, I tore my ACL for the second time in two years - this time at a trampoline park. The doctor said I’d have a 3% chance of ever re-tearing it, yet here I was, less than two years later, with the same knee scheduled for Round Two of surgery.
It was the semester from Hell.
Junior year I threw myself into school. I got a serving job at a cafe, I took all my highest level classes, I added a criminal justice degree to my workload, and I started really losing some of the weight I’d gained. I slowly tapered off the medication. It was a blur of paper cuts, 6 am Saturday mornings tying an apron around my waist, and spilled pre-workout in every crevice of my car.
And while I visited some internet friends in LA, New York City, and Philadelphia, I still developed an upper lip toward people my age; I told myself that since I’d failed to find a friend group and fit in somewhere, I was somehow above it. I was above IU. I was above college. I was only here to do my time and get out.
At the end of the year, I celebrated Little 500 the right way. I went out with my friends who didn’t attend the university, and it ignited the extrovert in me - suddenly I couldn’t stop being social. I made friends with people at work and in the EDM community, many of whom were townies, not students. I spent my summer exploring Bloomington, working, going to local bars, and preparing for my Senior year. My mental health soared; the wounds I’d endured in previous semesters were now, for the most part, patched and healed.
In the Fall I jetted off to London. I gained so much from it, and while homesickness did get the best of me at times, I felt so blessed to have been able to live there and experience another part of the world.
LA was another beast. I landed two amazing internships for my final Spring semester, I made so many local friends, and I couldn’t wait to fly home for a week at graduation and return to Hollywood with whatever job I had found at that point.
This was, of course, all before Coronavirus. (I like to joke that every Spring, something awful happens to me. I guess this fits the bill swimmingly.)
Here I am on my Graduation Day. I did nothing to celebrate. I watched one video clip from the “commencement website” email and then I quit, because watching a pre-recorded video of a guy in front of a green screen tell me about how “brave” my class is feels like a waste of time on a day in which I have literally nothing else to do. (Four years of signing your life over to a university and they can’t even do a live virtual commencement. But hey, who’s really counting the years, anyway?)
I’ve grappled with this odd feeling of nostalgia, contempt, and resentment. There are things I’ll miss about the simplicity of life as a student, the beauty in feeling my anxiety spike as I fast-walk through Dunn Woods to make it on time for class, the annoyance of the Two-Step (Duo) Log In on Canvas. I’ll miss getting Chipotle on Kirkwood after a lecture and browsing for discounted jerseys at Tracks.
But I won’t miss the very dark places I found myself in on multiple occasions while attending IU. I won’t miss seeing “friends” tell me they don’t want to keep in touch because I wasn’t in Greek Life. I won’t miss talking myself into going to frat parties with the girls who would get me on the list just so I could “fit in.”
I won’t miss a lot of things about IU. And I think that’s why it hurts more than it should.
I don’t regret the way I spent my four years, because they ultimately shaped me, whether I’d like to admit it or not. I’ve been ready for the next chapter in my life for a while, but it still rubs me the wrong way that even if I did graduate on a stage like all was planned for today, I wouldn’t be taking pictures in front of Sample Gates with other girls. I wouldn’t be popping champagne bottles and bar-hopping with people I’d grown to love over nights studying in the library or days tailgating at football games. Instead, on the bright side, I’ve formed friendships in so many other cities, states, and countries now than I know I never would have had I focused on a little bubble in school.
I’ve cried a lot today, and I guess some of it is because of good things, some of it is the fact that I’m thankful to have made it out alive, and some of it is because, well, damn, if these are supposed to be the best four years of my life, I’d like a refund, please and thanks.
On a serious note, my time at IU has been the biggest gift as far as learning who I am and who I want to become. It has morphed me and shaped me and, at the end of the day, we mourn the loss of the things that have impacted us to some degree, large or small. Today was supposed to signify a real transition into adulthood for me - a day I could celebrate the youth that is crappy $2 Tuesdays at the bars and overdue assignments and sneaking into the back of a lecture when you’re five minutes late and the professor doesn’t catch you. A day I could close this part of my life and move on, instead of waking up to another morning in my childhood bedroom, wondering when my future will start.
It’s all of these things. And I think it’s okay to say that IU was not the best four years of my life. I’m going to celebrate it for all that it was - the highs, the lows, the lessons I learned and the things I’ll now take with me.
I’d like to raise a final toast to my university, with a metaphorical shot of peach Taaka. For the glory of Old IU - it’s been a good run, for better or for worse.