There comes a time when you’re forced to keep your cool, and try not to lose it. It’s called a breaking point; my pastor preaches it as a ‘defining moment.’ In that instance, people find out who you really are. For college students, this moment seems to come every other day. There are assignments to be done, prelims to cram for, labs to attend and interviews to be bombed — all stacked on each other like an ambitious game of Jenga. It’s stressful, I tell you.
Especially for a freshman, the change has been jarring. Jumping from high school is like jumping from Double A to the Major Leagues — you hardly ever feel ready, and when you do, something else blindsides you and leaves you with whiplash. It might show up when you least expect it. My business management class, easily my favorite class so far, unveiled an ugly surprise last Monday: after a weekend of studying three assigned chapters crammed with marketing jargon, I was expecting at the very least a test on the terms.
At the end of the class, my professor very nonchalantly walked to the front of the room, and pulled up a video of an advertisement that he found on Youtube. We watched it, and then he told us to use what we had seen and apply it to a topic that had filled up about a page of our textbook. We had read about 80 pages.
People were pissed. We were mutinous. But we all learned something important: College is where expectations go to their graves. Expect the unexpected; and if you expect the unexpected, then you just might actually get the expected.
I think our expectations, as hopeful freshmen, were so distorted it left the room open for disillusionment. We expected things to go smoother than they really have. There have been fights, blowups, and tears. We certainly didn’t expect to get that grade on an exam. We all had certain dreams, to be a part of this and that club, to do this and that thing that would make us happy and satisfied, and when that didn’t happened, some spiraled. I didn’t get into my preferred choice of club, and when that happened, I became so discouraged I didn’t apply to any other clubs. When I missed my business quiz, I felt like my GPA had just took cyanide. When someone removed my clothes from the dryer and placed it on a dirty counter, being the germophobe I was, I freaked and placed everything back in the cleaner. And then I remembered: I had a laundry list of things still to do. I had to prepare for a quiz the next day, meet with my advisor, talk to this person and that, study this book and the other, and finish a CS Assignment. I had to be well learned, active, career oriented, social and happy. But I didn’t feel any of that. I just felt overwhelmed.
This relates to a conversations I had with my best friend just the other day. To be honest, she intimidates me a little. Her dad is a Yale professor, she went to an elite private school and she double majors in Biology and English. She’s off the charts smart and off kilter. She’s also determined. She lists her goals in the form of a hunting list: “First, I’m going to join this fraternity, next I’m going to get this on my MCAT, then I’ll receive my M.D. Ph.D. from Harvard, and then I’ll complete my residency and finally I’ll do this, this, this, this and, oh yes, that.” But when she said it, she seemed so worried, instead of excited. She had too much on her mind, like me, where we both obsessed over maintaining this nirvana of being social and learned, happy and unburdened, with a healthy GPA and conscience. We wanted it all.
I remember watching a documentary a couple years ago about a baseball phenom who came over from Cuba. His story was unbelievable: He had failed three times to defect from Cuba, but at the age of 15, he finally succeeded; even more, on that last try, his mother fell overboard from the boat, and he jump into the waters to rescue her. He quickly became a star: he pitched himself into the stratosphere of the Major Leagues, winning accolades and adoration from fans. He played the game with an ebullient radiance, passionate, infecting the game with his joy. When he was reunited with his grandmother, whom he left behind in Cuba, their tearful reunion reminded us how beautiful the American Dream could really be. His name was Jose Fernandez.
Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident last weekend at the age of 24. When I heard the news, I was sick, and disgusted. It was unfathomable. Here was someone who fought his way here from Cuba to bring his family here, and showed immense pride and joy every day in what he was doing. He shouldn’t have been taken away; it wasn’t right. He had his whole life ahead of him. He left behind his pregnant girlfriend. He left behind a devastated family. He left us shaken in our views of the world.
He certainly impacted me. I know he’s just one person, that there are bigger issues in this world, but still he resonated. It shouldn’t matter that much — but it has. The news of his passing put a few things in perspective for me. That, as much as the problems I face daily as a student, they seem almost trivial with what his family is dealing with right now. We’re all looking out for our success, but some things demand our attention more than just grades and activities. But another thing took to me too: embrace the little moments. You might never know when it’ll be your last. Now, whenever I get caught up with my hectic schedule, I just take a moment and relax and let up. I try to remember why I should be happy, instead of being upset about a quiz or a prelim to run through. I’m more appreciative now: I’m going to a great school, and I have friends to talk to. I have loving parents, and I’m writing for The Sun, doing what I love the most. Is this emotional overplay? Probably. But I do know this: just two weeks ago, I would have given anything to be Jose Fernandez. Today, I’m a better person because of him. College is stressful and frustrating. It’s thought provoking, and fit inducing. It’s a love hate relationship. But it’s a journey to be enjoyed and grow from. I can’t say it’ll be smooth, but I know that I’ll be here for four more years. I might as well enjoy every moment of it.
William Wang is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Willpower appears alternate Mondays this semester.