Two weeks away from graduating, a few of my friends and I decided to re-live our middle school days and have a campout in someone’s backyard. It was a little bit different without parental supervision, free as we were to experiment (in true 8-year-old style) with lighter fluid as we figured out how to light the grill, and to accompany our s’mores with cold beers. “Never have I ever” was more of an attack against one another for the embarrassing things we’ve done than a getting-to-know-you game, and we changed our clothes without the discomfort of hiding newly budding breasts.
When my friends decided to put a scary movie on, I begrudgingly agreed, and then spent the next two hours complaining about it. When the internet froze with 30 minutes left to go, I let out a sigh of relief. We exchanged some snippy words and then a few laughs and we all drifted off to sleep. I awoke in a state of panic, still needing to write this column — that I had no idea how to write — and in an obnoxious flurry of stress I fled the house.
How do you sum up the best four years of your life in a few hundred words? I thought about writing this column in so many ways: giving advice, sharing what I’ve learned or reflecting on my experiences. But I realized as I was driving home that all I really wanted to write about was my friends.
My friends are the friends that I know will ignore me when I yell at them at 3 a.m. for making me watch a scary movie, and then laugh at me when we wake up. They’re the friends that will make fun of me relentlessly when I pronounce “Snooki” wrong and proclaim that the Super Bowl is a day to eat bagels, so that I no longer repeat such travesties. For the last four years, my friends have been my family, and they’ve taught me what it really means to live with no regrets.
Before there was YOLO, I was bombarded most nights of the weekend with “you can sleep when you’re dead” or “the night is young and so are we.” I was never allowed to sulk in self-pity for my “over-packed schedule” (was I serious, sophomore self?) and every night had to be accompanied by a theme. There were Arabian fiestas, old-school kickbacks and living room forts. We threw surprise parties that never remained surprises for long, and started a dance party wherever a dance party could be started.
But the best nights were the ones spent in our living room for hours on end, watching YouTube videos, making fun of lame Facebook statuses or harping on stupid comments by inept politicians. We talked about the Middle East, the future of antibiotics and gay marriage. We shared what we learned in our classes and challenged each other on our views on race, sex and religion.
My friends are world travelers and Davis-enthusiasts, comedians and good Samaritans, academics and completely crazy. They’ve proved me wrong when I told them their ideas were impossible, showing me how to dream big and go hard. They’ve taught me to go with the flow, to take chances and to let go of the little things. They’ve both let me be myself and helped me to become exactly who I want to be.
So why should you care?
I tell you all this because college is so much more than your classes or your internships or the diploma you’ll get at the end of it all. College is about finding yourself and consciously molding yourself into the person you always wished you were — and friends are a big part of that. Find friends that will push you out of your comfort zone, but make you feel comfortable doing it. Seek out people who complement you – who bring out the qualities you lack but wish to have, or have, but that lie latent after the stifling pressures of your high school years – and you’ll find you’ll begin to feel more complete.
And when you do, leaving college will feel a little less scary because you’ll know you’ve gotten everything out of it that you possibly could have, that you’ve conquered it all and you can’t fail; and if you do, it won’t hurt quite so bad because at the end of the day you’ll know that you’ll always have your friends.
MELISSA FREEMAN can only offer her perspective. Tell her what you’ve gotten most out of college at firstname.lastname@example.org.