Freshman year: a time for unease

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September 5, 2008

2:09 PM

When I entered the College of William and Mary, I was told these four years would be the best time of my life. I soon learned that college represents a time of immense difficulty. I felt more sad and worthless than I ever had before. But there is a silver lining. College might not be the best time of your life, but it does provide a chance for some meaningful self-discovery.

As I dwell on difficult moments from freshman year, I’m immediately drawn back to one memory in particular. It was early May, and members of my sketch comedy group were meeting to discuss our previous year. A lot had happened that first year. Not only did our group finally acquire a fat suit, but we also found a black ceramic wig stand that smelled like chemicals.

Someone painted a face on the stand and later we all named it Jacquetta. She was featured in a series of sketches about a boy named Chris who was born with the head of his Siamese twin, Jacquetta, wedged to his hand. Although I wished I had the talent to write such an original idea, my friends Chris and Eric were the ones who conceived and then wrote that sketch. (I was too busy writing half-coherent sketches about vaginal crabs that played the fiddle.)

Freshman year was a constant reminder of my own shortcomings. While I spent most of high school excelling in classes and spending time with close friends, every day of freshman year felt painful. Few people on my freshman hall seemed interested in befriending me, and none of my professors wrote comments like “genius” on my English papers. I couldn’t even manage to write funny sketches for my comedy group. It was like the pristine ideal I held of myself was slowly rotting away, only to reveal the feeble-minded monster underneath.
Instead of stuffing Jacquetta into the waterlogged cardboard box where we kept the fat suit and the rest of our props, Jacquetta’s head sat sassily on the mantle place in my friend’s house. On that day in early May, I sat opposite Jacquetta. I stared into her painted acrylic pink eyes as I listened to my friends talk about their plans for summer and post-graduation. One planned to become a science teacher after graduation; another would work as a sommelier while trying to become a professional comedian.

“I am worried,” I said when it finally became my turn to speak. “I am worried because I am already 19 and I have no idea what I am doing with my life.”

At the time, that statement seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to say. After a year of bad grades and failed social interactions, I felt better suited to quit school and find a job scooping Italian ice. I felt cheated. No one ever told me how hard freshman year could be. This was unfortunate, because the fact is that all of us, no matter how smart, will feel incredibly worthless at least once during freshman year.
Perhaps tour guides could talk about problems they had their freshman year. Their brash honesty might not make prospective students fall in love with the College campus, but I know I would certainly have appreciated some truth.

“If you look to your left,” a tour guide might say, “you will see the bench where I cried after getting a C on my first French paper.”

“We are now entering the cafeteria,” another tour guide might say, “this is a great place to come when you feel that life is a humiliating joke. Also, they have a great omelet station.”

I wish I could say that as college continued my grades improved, or that I at least began contributing more to my comedy troupe. Neither is true, but this fact no longer bothers me. Much of college, I now realize, is about gaining personal perspective, about learning what things you do well and what things you do poorly. It turns out I am great at making macaroni and cheese and writing a snarky column for The Flat Hat. As for the things I do poorly, they are too numerous to mention, but I know they exist. Because I understand my limitations I am no longer bothered by them.

I don’t know what happened to Jacquetta. My friend Chris probably took her with him when he graduated school and moved to Chicago. Although my post-college plans are still vague, I would like to find that wig stand. If I should happen to find her shiny black head when rummaging through old boxes of props, I’d like to write a comedy sketch about me. It probably won’t be very good, but I am okay with that now.

James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. Don’t tell anyone, but he and Jaquetta might elope this weekend.

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