Freshman year is such a whirlwind. Looking back now I can see such a difference in who I was the very first night of college in August 2019 — so timid and unsure; to my unexpected last night there in March 2020 — sad to go but looking back on a year full of growth and strength. It’s a lot to process in such a short amount of time, especially when it’s cut short.
The days and nights of a freshman year are endless. You barely get a second to catch your breath. Always around people, maintaining a social life while also keeping up with piles of schoolwork. Finding a work-study job and sticking with it even when your friends are off watching The Bachelor or going out to eat. It’s kind of like you’re living every day on the fast track, no ability to stop or slow down. What I’m trying to say is, there isn’t a lot of room for reflection.
By the time I made it home last March and finished freshman year online, I just had to ask myself who am I?
It wasn’t a bad ask. It’s not like I went off the deep end or anything. I was trying to keep up with everything life was throwing my way and feeling like I lost a sense of who I was and who I wanted to be. Now I know that sounds a bit crazy for a 20-year-old to say, but my life has always been on the fast track. I’ve spoken to friends along the way and they’ve felt it, too. It’s more normal than I thought at this age — especially in the world we live in today. When classes finally ended in May and we were all still in quarantine it seemed like God was saying to me, “Hey, take this time. You need it.” I didn’t fully understand what this time in quarantine would mean or do for me, all I could recognize was that I needed to slow down.
It wasn’t until I made a decision I never thought I’d have to make that I really sat back and reflected on everything that had occurred thus far. Days away from our final opportunity to go remote for the fall semester I was still writing pro and con lists, finding out any and all things that could go wrong for either decision – to stay home and attend online, or return to campus. One of my pros was time with friends I hadn’t seen in months. Another was my belief that in-person classes are easier to understand but then I learned that only two of the six classes I was taking would be held in-person. Going to college in a pandemic…I couldn’t wrap my head around it…how could any of us really know if the school policies would keep everyone healthy? Was it worth it? Even undecided, I wanted to get tested in case I chose to go back to campus.
I asked many friends, family members, and even strangers their opinions on what I should do. Each ended their comments by saying, “I can’t make this choice for you. Ultimately, it’s your decision.” My mind circled back and forth imagining different scenarios. When it came time to make a decision I had no idea what the right thing was. Little did I know “the right thing” did not exist. It was a matter of what I needed most in that time in my life and once I sat in the chair in front of the testers with the face shields and the hazmat suits I knew there was no way I was going back this semester.
It was a controversial decision, both for myself and others — there was no big issue or obvious argument but you can just tell when somebody doesn’t agree with or approve of your choices. One of the things I’ve learned in this period of self-reflecting is that if you’re not harming anyone with your choice, then it’s just that…your choice. And there’s such an importance to owning and being confident in the decisions that you make. I was so lucky my friends at school understood the decision that I made and continued to make me feel “at home” with countless phone calls and updates throughout the semester.
And so I spent most of the first semester of my sophomore year in my childhood bedroom, learning, working, and studying…and it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. My professors were great and very understanding and I wasn’t alone in online learning. Marist kept case numbers under 100 for the duration of the semester which was impressive to say the least. That’s another part of what made me feel good about postponing until the spring semester. What I didn’t realize I needed most before returning to campus was a lot more growing and understanding — reflecting.
When the fall semester wrapped up, I got a chance to breathe. Late nights watching movies and sleeping in far too late led to a lot of thoughts about who I was freshman year, who I became as a sophomore and who I want to become. In a way, I think I learned a lot more here at home than I could have on campus, maybe not academically, but personally — and to me, that was what made staying home and attending remotely worth it. Like I said before, freshman year was a whirlwind with no chance to catch my breath and process all that was happening, including life before college. I learned the most by stepping off the Marist campus I had known as my happy place. I had put too much pressure on my own plans, expecting an immense amount of happiness from something that could so easily disappear, shift, or change. All of these realizations came from the start of quarantine, that feeling of needing this time. I didn’t understand that feeling in the moment but as I began to learn these lessons I realized this was why.
I have always kinda “known” what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be, and how I would get there. Once I had all that figured out, Marist, New York City, writing, those things became a “lifeline” for me. It was a promise to myself: “I’ll be happy when…” Well, how about, let’s make the most of this day and find something each morning that makes me happy? How about relying on myself instead of faulty plans and ideas that can be altered due to something like a pandemic or even the change of my own mind.
Now, that’s not to say that Marist doesn’t add to my happiness or that I won’t be writing anymore. Absolutely not. Both make me who I am today and who I want to become. New York City is still a goal and a dream, but I think learning to be more open-minded with myself was something I needed to work on. I learned so much about who I am and what I want that I can now embrace who I was before and grow into who I want to become. Someone with an increasing desire to travel throughout the U.S. and overseas; realizing that a stupid, silly dance in my room is enough to change my mood completely; re-discovering my love and passion for becoming a writer but maybe even learning to be a nurse someday down the line; the desire to have a family of my own someday and learning all the reasons why. I’ll be the first to admit that I have plenty of ambitions to keep myself busy and I’ve got plenty more lessons to learn.
I am returning to the Marist campus this semester and I’m overjoyed. Of course, it’ll be odd coming back to a campus and a life that’s changed in so many ways and hey, I’m okay with that for I have changed, too. I’m excited to see my friends again and make the most out of our quarantine time on campus, meet all their new friends and housemates I’ve heard so much about, and explore all that’s to come this semester.
This is an experience so unique to my generation, it’ll make for plenty more stories to tell friends and family. I wish I could fully express the gratitude I have for all I’ve learned from this quarantine experience. It seems to me that all our day-to-day lives are so full of hustle and bustle, that fast-paced version of freshman year I talked about, no matter what stage or season of life we’re in. I know I’m young and am in no position to offer up unsolicited advice but I hope you take away one thing from reading this: take a step back, smile, and find the good in every single day. Search for those who love and support you no matter what. Learn about yourself, what makes you smile, what adds to your happiness, what helps you grow…and what may be holding you back. Grab your headphones and blast whatever music sings to your soul and dance like nobody’s watching. Life is made up of choices and it’s important to have confidence and own the decisions we make.
I own my choice to stay home for the fall semester and doing so enriched my life in so many ways I never anticipated. Now I look forward to returning to campus with a fresh pair of eyes.
Editor’s Note: Brooke Shamon, BHS Class of 2019, enrolled at Marist College in New York in September 2019. Covid-19 abruptly sent her home the following March to contemplate how to carry on with her college education in the pandemic. Brooke began writing under the banner of Student Voices @ The Bedford Citizen in 2018 as a high school senior and is a frequent contributor.