Featured Column, Features

Becoming Myself During the Ups and Downs of Junior Year

After I survived my Orgo II final at the end of the spring semester, my former roommate and I celebrated with ice cream at White Mountain. Before we went our separate ways—she to commencement and traveling around the world as a filmmaker, and I back home to work in a lab and figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life—I asked her what to expect in my junior year. She told me that it would be the year I would become myself. It was such an abstract answer at the time, but I think I’m starting to finally understand what she meant.

From what I’ve learned during my first month back on campus, junior year is lonely. I thought I would know the ins and outs of Boston College by now, and that this year was supposed to be a bit more enjoyable. After a rough two years, I’m left waiting for a fairy godmother to swoop in and tell me that things are going to change for the better.

For the most part, I’ve become the stereotypically confident BC student who looks like she has her life together: I have friends, I’m involved, and I like my classes. But if I take a closer look, I can see that the lawn isn’t perfectly manicured and the Gothic towers don’t shine as brightly as they used to.

I have friends. I learned early in my freshman year that it’s better to be friendly than run around making friends left and right. Besides, Dunbar’s number suggests that you have the cognitive ability to maintain only 150 healthy social relationships. That ever-constant state of friendliness and a pleasant smile plastered on my face hid the fact that I’m drowning in perfunctory “heys” and mindless small talk. I can’t seem to recognize anyone in campus hotspots like the dining hall or the library. Oh that’s right, I would remind myself, I’m stuck here while they’re having fun studying abroad or off campus. I couldn’t care less what time zone they’re in—it’s all the same to me.

I’m involved. I remember calling home every day freshman year to vent my frustrations on how everyone else looked like they were adjusting to college life while I was left floundering. I learned my lesson, and subsequently became so involved on campus I wouldn’t have time to think about home. Employers love leaders, so I forged on and became one. I learned to take initiative, assumed leadership roles in various student organizations, and formed meaningful relationships with professors and other mentors. It’s weird seeing underclassmen look up to you as a leader knowing that I was once in their shoes. I keep holding onto the belief that the interpersonal skills I learn will come in handy soon enough out there in the “real world.” It feels like I keep gathering speed as I continue to rack up leadership roles for my resume, and I feel the burden of different commitments on my back.

I like my classes. I like what I’m learning, but the pressure to perform and the current of competition that define classroom culture will eventually wear you down as rivers invariably wear down the biggest of boulders. On an Excel sheet, my schedule looks perfectly fine, a handful of classes neatly distributed across five days. What you don’t see are the hours outside the classroom spent toiling over assignments and scrambling to master the subject material with the exam date looming ahead. I’ve had to micromanage every waking minute of my day, compartmentalizing meet-ups with friends into neat 30-minute time slots while setting aside a few hours a day to focus on my schoolwork.

So yes, junior year is certainly the year where I will become myself—I just didn’t know it would be such a messy, lonely process. My body is on autopilot as I go through the motions of college life. The newly crisp autumn wind chills me to the bone as I walk through campus, but for now it’s the only thing keeping me awake. Looking up at the cloudless sky and bright sun, I make a point to laugh—a genuine laugh or a crazed laugh of defiance, I don’t know which and it doesn’t really matter—at least once during the day.

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor

September 26, 2016