It’s hard to find your place on campus, let alone in the world. And yet, the longer I’m here, the more I’m starting to realize there’s more than a subtle parallel between the two. Work out one, and you start to understand how to go about the other.
I haven’t figured it out yet myself, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that I’m in the majority. With the exception of athletes, like my two swimmer suitemates, most of us come to college without the advantage of a preexisting social group. In grade school, our parents stuck flutes in our hands and sent us off to band camp. They bought us cleats and shin guards and put us on soccer fields. They sewed costumes, bought stage make-up and drove us to rehearsals for our part as Flying Monkey 3 in “The Wizard of Oz.” These were the groups to which we clung for the formative years of our lives.
But college, as I’m sure you have guessed, is another story altogether. My parents paid my tuition for the first semester, bought me adhesive tape and storage containers for my dorm and then left me on my own. At first, just being here was enough. After 12 years of worrying whether school would ever end, I was here at last. I’d made it. It took 12 years to earn the right to independence. I partied on weeknights, made friends and even allotted a respectable amount of time to studying. Life was good. Even doing my laundry came with its own embarrassing little thrill of adulthood.
Then something changed. I started partying only once a week. Then once every two weeks. Now, almost never. Roommates and hallmates with whom I thought I would be friends for life (and by life, I mean four years of undergraduate school) weren’t quite as similar to me as I’d originally thought. Before I realized it, my glorious college life — which I’d dreamed of for four interminable years of high school — had come to consist of watching episodes of “House” on hulu.com, studying when absolutely necessary and filling Caf to-go boxes with pizza on top of French fries on top of spaghetti.
If you’re waiting, for the turning point in this scenario, when I come back with an uplifting story of how I turned this relatively depressing situation around and made a name for myself, I’m afraid it’s not coming. What I just described to you is my life at present, give or take a quick jog or a trip to New Town now and then. Out of pure boredom, I dyed my hair blonde. See that picture of me up there by the column name? Blondie, right? Wrong. A hundred bucks on Parents’ Weekend because I had nothing else to do, and I’ve already dyed it back to my natural color.
I’ve got to get a hobby. But in college, people don’t acquire hobbies. They join clubs. They audition for a cappella groups. They volunteer. And they find a dozen other people just like themselves who are realizing that they have no idea how to occupy the 12-odd hours of every day in which they’re not at class or cramming for an exam.
So, after about an hour lecture via cell phone from my dad who absolutely loved college at the University of Richmond — and was a man about campus through his involvement in theater — I allowed myself to be convinced that I should do something about my relatively indifferent state of existence. He told me to just sign up for things I was semi-interested in. Maybe it’s not ideal but something will lead to meeting people who are just as unsure of where they belong as I am
After I got off the phone, in that weird drizzle-rain we had on Saturday night, I trudged up to Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall and sat myself down in front of the huge bulletin board with all the information on theater events, volunteer opportunities and audition notices. It was nothing big, but I wrote my name down everywhere I could, even for the jobs that nobody wanted back in high school, because they weren’t quite as glamorous as being on stage where people can see and admire you. I didn’t care. I wasn’t signing up for attention and glamour — I was signing up for a chance to belong.
Maybe weeks from now, that scribble with my name and e-mail on the stage crew sign-up sheet will lead me to an entirely new group of people to whom I relate and feel natural and comfortable around. Maybe I’ll be dressed in black, getting directions from a headset about props needing to be moved, and suddenly filled with a sense of purpose. Maybe I’ll be three episodes behind on “House” because of my new involvement.
Then again, maybe not. I might be in the same boat as I am now. But it won’t be the same boat exactly. Before I had been idling with my oars folded apathetically across my lap. Now I’ll have thrust them into the water, rowing anew with conviction and vigor — even if maybe I don’t know quite where I’m headed.
__Zoe Speas is a Critical Condition columnist. She is counting down the hours till the next episode of “House.”__