Illustration of a person on the left side of the frame wearing graduation robe amid a sea of text bubbles, while a first year on the right wearing a lanyard and mask stares in confusion.
Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Lewis & Clark declassified: first-year survival guide

There is a not-so-subtle note of irony in writing an article about how to enjoy your first year of college when the West Coast is on fire and you are quarantined in your dorm room due to a deadly pandemic. While almost everyone goes through uncomfortable adjustments during their first year, the class of 2024 has unequivocally taken the cake in terms of chaos. If first year struggles were a competition, you all went for gold.

Alas, I once thought that I could never stand on a soapbox proclaiming that the world is ending, yet here I am. 

Now that I have dredged the “worst-case scenarios” from the dramatic swamps of my (and possibly your) mind, I can hopefully provide a little comfort. I know that I cannot even begin to understand what the class of 2024 is going through. However, I can say that I too felt like the world was ending at the beginning of my first year. This was most likely due to my aforementioned flair for the dramatic, rather than actual life-threatening circumstances, but I digress. 

While I angst-ed my way through the first two weeks, I begrudgingly tried all of the things  that well-meaning loved ones told me would make me happy, one of which happened to be working out. In the basement of Stewart Hall, there is a gym with a sign above the mirror that says “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Whenever you feel out of place in the coming months, I urge you to repeat this phrase over and over in your mind. If I could distill everything I learned my first year into one idiom, it would be that one. I remember seeing that sign for the first time and feeling a little bit of the world’s weight shift off of my shoulders. I did not know it then, but the manure stench that engulfs those memories is what grew the gardens of joy that flourish in my life today. 

If there are any down-trodden first-years reading this, please know that it is so normal to be unhappy or upset in any way during this time. Change like this under normal circumstances is hard enough. Give yourself more credit than you think you deserve. Be aggressively kind and forgiving to yourself. You will make mistakes, but your mistakes will not make you. 

My final piece of advice is arguably the most important, and fittingly so, is not even my own. During one of my many calls with my mother, I lamented the fact that I still had no friends after an entire week. I felt scared, foolish and just plain sad. During a phone call, in between my blubbering sobs, my mom interjected, in a shockingly stern tone, “Alex, you just need to tell someone that you need a friend.” That, at the time, seemed utterly impossible. I conceded that I would but had no plans to actually follow through. However, the next day, I asked a girl from class to go to lunch with me, and she agreed. In between bites of Bon lentils, I thought about what my mom said and suddenly blurted out, “I have no friends!” After a moment of stunned silence, she invited me to go to the roller rink with her and her friends later that night. As fate would have it, I met my current best friends, roommates and biggest supporters on that disco-lit wooden floor. 

Despite what you may think right now, no one else has it figured out. No matter how many Instagram stories you see, everyone feels lonely at some point during this transition. Take a moment to pause and take a deep breath, even if it is through a mask. 

This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log and its editorial board.

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