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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

The comfort of college

My close friends might characterize my college years as a time of (trivial) crises: poring over projects late into the night, leaving Hesburgh Library at sunrise once or twice, having my bike stolen in broad daylight from right outside DeBart, sustaining a black eye from a night-run gone wrong on an uneven sidewalk, agonizing over choosing a major and a career path, trying to contain soapy water overflowing from my apartment washing machine and enlisting the help of a few Good Samaritans to push my car out of a mound of icy snow in which I had no business trying to park. 

But overlooking these surface scribbles, my time in college, at its core, has been one of comfort — not necessarily because of any experiences particular to me, but more by the general nature of undergraduate life. Safely past the insecure years of middle school and high school where we anxiously awaited groups/others to accept us, we now find ourselves among more than just the people who lived within a 10 mile radius of us and we choose to associate with groups that appeal to us. Snugly situated between childhood and adulthood, college kids enjoy the best of two worlds: freedom and security; independence and reliance. We get to keep one foot in both phases of life for these four years, identifying as an adult when it suits us (like in the Olfs' line) but claiming our juvenile side when that’s more convenient (How am I supposed to know how to do taxes?). When I went to Washington, D.C., last semester for a Social Concerns seminar with a group led by students my own age, I felt surprised they had let us venture in our nation’s capital without an adult in attendance, until I remembered that we ourselves were technically adults. 

We tend to want to be somewhere other than where we actually are in life. Children are notorious for wanting to grow up too fast, and adults often wish they were younger. Every little girl breaks into her mother’s makeup collection at some point, eager to emulate the elegant women around her — or stumbles around in heels to get a glimpse of what life looks like from up there. Birthdays, prized as the crown jewel of the year for young children, become dreaded days as we get older. While everyone at school must know you just turned 16 and are going to get your driver’s license after the final bell, but no one can know you’re 40. And the ability to drive, considered a treat to the newly-licensed 16-year-old, becomes a burden for the 37-year-old who must trudge through traffic during rush hour on the way to work. And while kids’ favorite game (well, at least my own) is playing “house”, adults groan at having to maintain the condition of their homes. While little kids itch for freedom, adults ache for a return to the carefree days.

College is a time of comfort, nestled securely in between these two unsatisfactory stages. We get our first taste of living as an adult and relish it, excited at the chance to decorate and clean our very own household, cook our own meals and host gatherings with friends. Things matter, but not too much. We can do important things — research, intern or start a business — but we can also do things that aren’t too important — bake cookies for our section, attend biweekly residence hall meetings and lounge around Library Lawn for game night. We can pursue significant career opportunities, but we can also change our minds and majors and survive the blow of a B in physics. 

In college, life feels like a pendulum for a little bit, as we swing back and forth between the bounds of growing up and grown up, except this pendulum doesn’t swing forever. As comfortable as we become in its predictable oscillations, one sunny day in mid-May we’re unsuspectingly flung over the fence, forever to remain outside its posts. Some three weeks away from that day, this feels like quite a frightening thought — until I recall a comment from my ND Welcome Tour that has stuck with me ever since: that Notre Dame’s goal is for college not to be the best four years of its students' lives. This seems like an odd thing to tell admitted students when you’re trying to convince them to choose your campus. But the tour guide quickly explained her controversial statement: that Notre Dame should be the beginning of greater things to come. As the comfort of college comes to a close and we’re left to fend for ourselves in the free but tough adult world, I can honestly say that Notre Dame has been the best four years of my life, but the greatest gift it’s given me is that it won’t always be.

A former resident of Lyons Hall, Eva Analitis is a senior majoring in political science and pre-health. Even though she often can’t make up her own mind, that won’t stop her from trying to change yours. She can be reached at eanaliti@nd.edu or @evaanalitis on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.