My mom likes to tell the story of when she knew I was going to be okay in college, when my family knew I had fallen in love with Carolina. It was in the fall semester of my freshman year, I was walking through McCorkle place and passed the Old Well. I stopped for a moment and just looked at the scene.
The bright blue roof of the well glowing in the midday sun, the white pillars set firmly in the gray stone steps, all framed by the rich pinks and greens of the foliage around it. I had to share it with them. I took a photo and typed the message “I go to school on the most beautiful campus.” Dad responded with “Awesome,” and Mom said “I’m glad.”
Now, I'm a “graduate of” UNC-Chapel Hill, no longer a “student at,” and I am grappling with what that means. I'm figuring out what it means to be an “adult”: finding a job, settling down somewhere, paying for my own health insurance. And that’s a terrifying notion. Growing up can be a terrifying notion.
As I left my apartment for the last time, I thought of all the things I hadn’t had time to do. I didn’t stargaze at Kenan Stadium, I didn’t listen to a show over the loudspeakers outside Memorial Hall and I didn’t win an intramural championship t-shirt. But, having had time to reflect, I’m starting to realize my time at Carolina was about the stuff I made time to do.
In four years, I built a life. I built a family. I felt the sting of heartbreak. I fell in love. I learned what it meant to live on my own, and how to take care of those learning to do the same. I conducted 250-person band and caught a football Nick Weiler kicked at a football game. I learned how long I could procrastinate and still get my work done on time. I learned how to fully report a good story. I found my passion. I learned who I am, and who I’m not, and I did it at UNC.
As an undergraduate, I changed from a girl afraid of getting lost in a crowd into a woman ready to pursue a career in a big city and I couldn’t have done that without Carolina. It will always be a part of me no matter where I go or what I do, and that’s important. So, here are some important lessons learned in my time at the university of the people.
1. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and that’s okay.
When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t want to come to UNC. I saw “28,000 students” on the “About UNC” page and decided it was not the place for me. You see, I was graduating high school with 196 people. My nana lives in an apple orchard. You have to take a mile-long driveway to get to my house. I figured small-town me would get lost in a sea of 28,000 people.
Instead, I wanted to go to Wake Forest, which I lovingly describe as UNC on a smaller scale. An ACC school with a rich history and a beautiful campus populated by about 6,000 people. It was perfect for what I thought I wanted. There was only one problem: it was $51,000 per year. I got in, and got financial aid, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what we needed to make my attendance feasible. So, to UNC I went, begrudgingly.
After the fact, I wouldn’t trade my UNC degree for anything. Wake Forest didn’t have a Journalism program when I applied and I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity. At UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, I discovered my passion for Public Relations and studied with some of the best professors and mentors in the country.
Alexander Graham Bell once said “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Don’t get too caught up in disappointment over a missed opportunity, just work to press on and find the next one.
2. There’s a niche for everyone. Find yours.
One way to make a big place seem smaller is to find a group where you fit in. For me, that was the Marching Tar Heels. I joined my freshman year and remained an active member all four years. Some of my best friends and most fond memories come from my time in band. Not only that, it provided me with a block of time every week to do something I enjoy: making music.
You have to find something that brings you joy. Do you play a sport? Find a recreational or and intramural league. If you like to read, then find a book club. You can find your group in a local ministry, at the gym, in a class or even by practicing one of your hobbies. It can be anything as long as it makes you happy. And if you’re happy, it's easier to make friends, and you feel healthier all-around.
3. You aren’t going to be good at everything
I think it’s fair to say that most of us strive for perfection in our work, be it in class, at an internship, on a big assignment you have to turn in. We all want to show others that we’re good at what we do. But, the fact of the matter is, we all fall short sometimes.
For me, that was in ECON 101. Before taking that course, I had the goal of never making a C in college. Then, I got a 70 on our first exam. I had friends in the course who had made A’s and B’s, and I felt stupid and inadequate because I couldn’t do the same.
But, you can’t dwell on this “inadequacy.” Imelda Staunton said, “you can only do your best. That’s all you can do.” I made a C in ECON, but I worked as hard as I could and found my strengths in other things. I found a passion for politics and public relations, and I excelled in those areas. So, find what you’re good at and focus on it. You have strengths that others don’t have, and that’s something to be proud of.
4. Growing up doesn’t always mean growing apart
Whether we want to admit it or not, college is a bubble. You’re on the same campus with the same people doing the same things for an extended period of time. You form a routine. You go to the same seat in the library every day to work on homework and go to the same place for trivia every week with your best friends.
Then senior year hits. All of a sudden you're bombarded with the realization that you have to leave this wonderful place and be an adult next year.
In the little time I had left, I felt like I had to maximize time with all of my friends. All the nostalgic parts of Chapel Hill were always at the top of my mind. Relationships began to change as I completed my degree and started my job search. Time was just slipping away, and I worried I wouldn’t finish everything I wanted to do.
That takes it’s toll. My realization that I was stepping outside the bubble was scary. I was leaving the time when my friends were no more than a 10-minute drive away, and began to wonder what that meant for those relationships. But, my roommate said it best:
“The people who are really important aren’t going anywhere.”
And she’s right. Even though we don’t live together anymore, I still rely on her. I still care about how she’s doing, and vice versa. No city, no job and no distance is ever going to change that.
5. Patience is a virtue
If you’re like me, you want to feel like you have everything figured out. As I got closer and closer to graduation, I wanted to make sure I had a job lined up, I had a place to live, and to have all of my post graduate plans arranged. I was in the final round of interviews for a year-long internship in Washington D.C., and I felt like everything was starting to come together.
Then I got the email: “At this point in time, we will be moving forward with alternate candidates for this position.”
Jeremiah 29:11 tells us “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” And I believe that wholeheartedly, but I know sometimes it’s hard to accept that your timeline isn’t always going to line up with God’s.
After this rejection, I struggled with knowledge I wasn’t going to have a job when I graduated. I felt like I didn’t have things as together as I thought I did. But, Psalm 40:1 says “I waited patiently for the Lord’s help; then he turned to me and heard my cry.”
Things are not always going to happen on the timeline you set forth, but don’t give up. If you have faith and stay the course, something great will come along for you.