As a senior, Kyle McCoy, looks back on her Rollins years and shares her experience as well as insightful advice on how to make the best of your college experience.
Sometimes people change and friends will drift apart. “Friend-hopping” is not an uncommon practice amongst busy, fickle undergrads, especially from school year to school year. We switch our majors, add new minors, swap roommates, join organizations, and drop out of them just as freely. The places we frequented most as first years and the people that we shared those mortifying, never-to-be-forgotten “beginner’s mistakes” with are rarely the exact same spaces and faces we end up surrounded by the time we start purchasing legal drinks.
But on any given Friday afternoon, you will likely find me surrounded by a combination of the same several faces you would have found me in the company of on any other given Friday of any other year that I have been here at Rollins. At the wake of senior year, it is only now dawning on me as to how fortunate I have been.
When you first get to Rollins, you know ahead of time that this stay will only be temporary—a stepping stone along the way. Should you stay the full undergrad duration, this will be your campus for four years, these are your professors for four years, these are the rules you will abide by (or perpetually get caught “bending”) for all four years. This is a community in which you build a four-year home, whether that be in some dingy dorm room or just down the street.
Homes: they change as often as we do, but home is where your loved ones are. For a while, I do not think I classified friends and loved ones as categorized together, but rather separately compartmentalized. College is where you will hit your most painful, life questioning rock bottoms, and where you will accomplish certain goals you had only dreamed of in your capacity as children. Of course the people who have witnessed a progression of my most character trying and defining moments deserve a title like my loved ones. With a little luck, and some success at the trials and tribulations of trust, it is possible to build yourself a college family.
I don’t think I ever simply settled for the people I least minded passing my time with. Rather, I latched on to fierce loyalty in the face of fearfulness, unexpected compassion when unable to show myself any, commiseration that reassured my version of what might be sanity, ego boosts through bouts of creative blockage, and checks back into reality. That being said, here are five anecdotal tips for the first year—or anyone—still looking to secure a support system similar to my own:
First, take the risk to trust. My best and technically oldest friend here at Rollins was the last person I came out to as a lesbian. I do not know what I thought her reaction would be, but I was surely afraid of finding out. Funny thing is, she didn’t even flinch as I professed and, to this day, still never has. Based on an intimidating personality combined appearance, I had judged her as unlikely to be in favor of such difference. Oh the irony, no? Do not write yourself off for people—and do not just write people off. Let them write you off if they are going to, but never assume someone’s attitude based on loose perceptions. Human behavior is a complex enigma. Surface level assumptions inhibit us from trying to understand each other, and allowing ourselves to be understood.
Second, don’t hide or impulsively transfer. If there is something about you that lets you believe that you are not like “these Rollins kids,” that actually makes you just the same as many of the people I have gotten to know here. I have felt like I didn’t belong at this particular school before, like it must not be like other institutions. I differ greatly from so many of my peers, but those are not the people who I have gotten close to. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are too different to fit in. Everyone blends in with a different crowd, and there are endless groups to choose from with new organizations forming all the time. There is a negative stereotype of homogeny attached to our little “party school.” But in the same way I recommend getting to know people before you write them off on your presumptions, I suggest you get to know Rollins a bit better too.
Third, check out that club that sparks your interest, even if someone said it sounded “lame.” I do not know if it still exists, but there was a laughing club during my first year. I will always regret never attending a meeting of the laughing club. What doe not sound fun about a circle full of people—staring at one and other—who force laughter until everyone is authentically laughing? I could have LMAO-ed, worked on my abs, cast off school stress, and met new people in the process. But I didn’t have anyone to go with; have the courage to go places alone. Even if you have a terrible time, the moment will pass, and you don’t have to go back. Only never going will mean never knowing.
Fourth, forgiveness. We all make terrible mistakes. We have all drank too much, we have all made selfish choices, and many of us will forget important stuff we promised to remember. Keeping in mind that your friends are as fallible as you are is a healthy way to approach the inevitable disagreements, disappointments, and fleeting chaos that transpires given time. And if someone begrudges you for too long, then you let those ones go. True friends will never expect you to behave perfectly or abandon you at the sight of your flaws. As much as I detest this memory, that is what makes it a prime example of real loved ones: two years ago, my friends didn’t call me crazy or abandon me for scaring them after I got so drunk and upset that I burned my hand with a cigarette one night while we were out. I awoke the next morning ashamed, regretful, and to the sight of supportive looks, while only I was judging me. Real friends will love you in spite of ephemeral chaos. They will love you through it. On that note, my last suggestion will be to…
Stop taking friends or friendship for granted. It is easy to get so overwhelmed by deadlines, or so indulged with woes of romance, that you feel all alone to struggles you internalized, so as to minimize their reality. As an introvert by nature, I think my instinct has always been to shut the world out while I stress with myself. It is easy to recall specific periods over the past few years where I isolated myself while overwhelmed. But the truth is, whenever I get so worked up about a project that I cannot even pick one word to begin on, it is my friends who lend me the inspiration, encouragement, and additional perspectives I lacked while trying to go at it alone. As both of my serious college relationships came to tumultuous ends, my friends did not let me disappear in exile, as was my inclination to do so in those moments. They devoted time to soothing me away from my anger, self-pity, and guilt. They invested themselves, which I can now reflect upon as choicely.
Do not assume certain measures taken by your own friends as “part of their job description.” It is not anyone’s job, or obligation, to award you love or kindness. We exercise great effort when we empathize. We tax ourselves to care. I cannot believe it has taken me years to stop undervaluing the friendships I have been privileged to forge at our school, and to appreciate the roles each one plays in my accumulating success.
Whatever point you have reached in the mere four years we get to spend here, don nott be afraid to ever question: do I surround myself with loved ones? Am I around these people because they are who is around, or would I want them there forever given that option? Will it hurt to say goodbye? If never seeing anyone from Rollins ever again after graduating would not bother you, perhaps it is time to try getting to know more of your peers.
But if you have struck my same luck, indulge in that. Celebrate, display, and say thanks. Or even brag in your school paper. It blows my mind that my closest friends have always been on this Rollins coaster ride with me—as far back as our very first week. And they are, without a doubt, the reason why I stay.