My first semester: Flying on off

When given the opportunity for positive change, whether that be a new job opportunity, a chance to travel internationally, or even being able to attend a university to further one’s education, the immediate reaction is usually excited and anxious for it all to begin. Speaking specifically on the shift from high school to college, it is often viewed as the prime time for new opportunities in someone’s life, the gateway to the real world. While this may be true, many students may find themselves being burnt out quickly, and soon become overwhelmed by this new experience that is supposed to be a time of growth. In Toni Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon”, there is a quotation that I believe contributes to this exact feeling. The quote reads, “You just can’t fly on off and leave a body”, and it was also used as our course epigraph for this semester. In the novel, this is referring to Pilate going back to take care of the man in a cave that had been murdered. To me, this epigraph really spoke to the idea that one can’t throw themselves into an unfamiliar situation without first taking a step back to process. I think that when people get excited about something new, they are eager to jump in and forget to give themselves time, otherwise it can become overwhelming very fast. Not allowing yourself time to adjust can neglect self-care and prevent growth in a time that is meant for those things specifically. In my first semester here at SUNY Geneseo, I think that one of the things that I struggled with this semester was attempting to embrace the idea of the college experience without taking a step back to permit adjustment.

In the year leading up to leaving my small town of Croghan, New York, and coming to the equally small town of Geneseo, I can say I was more than ecstatic. Neither of my parents attended college, but I have an older brother who is a junior at our local community college. I had heard of how exciting it would be and how many new people I would meet. In a way, these encouragements, while they came from a place of care, harmed my outlook on the first few weeks I spent away from home. I would have conversations with people at graduation parties, summer cookouts, or sometimes just in a grocery store, and they would all ask me the same question: “Are you excited to go?”. Of course, the answer was always yes, because how could I ever be dreading such a positive change in my life? After moving in and spending my first weekend as a college student, I realized that not only was college everything I had been told, but it was also some things that no one had ever mentioned to me. For example, no one ever told me how loneliness accompanies the freedom that is granted when you live on your own. Freedom is a luxury, and it is something that I had looked forward to gaining when I began my first semester of college. This same freedom, however, comes with a cost: being alone. I was prepared to live on my own, that was the part I was looking forward to. What I was not prepared for was how on my own I was actually living.

I threw myself into the college experience, to a point where I would find myself in my room, not distracted by the life surrounding me, and that is when I would really reflect to see that I truly was, on my own. It is human nature to dive right into situations that may be considered over our heads. In “Song of Solomon”, Milkman often finds himself in positions that he is not entirely comfortable in or prepared for. Part of growth, I have learned, is forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, but not forgetting your limits and boundaries at the same time. These two opposites often seem impossible to collaborate, and most of the time we end up choosing one or the other, similar to how Milkman does in Chapter 11 of the novel: “Milkman did the best he could with a broken bottle, but his face got slit, and so did his left hand, and so did his pretty beige suit…” (Morrison). In this scene in the novel, Milkman knows he is in unfamiliar territory, yet he still chooses to fight, even though he ends up losing in the end. This is not an uncommon feeling that many still choose today. Why, then, do we choose the harder way of doing things, without giving ourselves time to process what is happening in our lives? The excitement of the moment falls into sight, blinding us from reason or rationalization. Going from a high school setting to college setting is not unlike Milkman’s situation in that scene. Faced with choices constantly, trying to read the room, trying to decide what the next move will be. Then, when the choice is made, the constant contemplation: did I make the right choice, or what would the outcome have been, had I chosen differently? The trick is, to choose what feels right in the moment, don’t be afraid to change, but remember also who you are and what your morals are.

Now that this first semester has come to an end, I can finally take a step back and process what I enjoyed, and what I can improve upon in my coming semesters. Our epigraph, “You just can’t fly on off and leave a body”, has guided my reflection and created insight on the most important thing: to maintain a healthy amount of change. New experiences are exciting, of course, but in order to care for yourself first, and grow effectively to aid those around you, one must pause and decide if throwing yourself into something new is what is best for the future and present. In other words, you can’t begin a new experience, without first remembering who you are when you start, because the only way to grow is to start from a point that is away from where you’re going.