I remember it clearly: the bustle of the move-in trucks, students, and families beaming with excitement, the Tiger mascot posing with incoming frosh underneath a sign that declared, “Welcome Class of 2021!” On what seemed like both a week and a century ago, move-in day, I felt young. New. Everything around me was new, teeming with the thrill of exploration. Every face, every corner, every arch — all were fresh. Buildings built before the birth of the country seemed new to me. I was new. I felt it.
Throughout my first year at the University, I’ve learned, grown, and certainly struggled. Though it would be a stretch to call myself wiser, I have matured. I’ve forced myself to think about what I want to study, where I want to work, and who I want to become. These momentous questions have aged me. And at Princeton, the culture of internships, coupled with a career-oriented academic focus, pushes us to plan ahead farther than we would otherwise look. I do not mean to discredit the merit of an internship or the opportunities that a summer commitment affords, but it is striking that many of us have taken a step towards research and careers outside of the classroom, even as first-year students. And internships constitute just one facet of the stress that engulfs Princetonians. It is easy to drown in this fast-paced world of adulthood.
Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me, “What are your plans for this summer?” The implications are that I should have something planned. Who would negate this, when Princeton offers us so many opportunities beyond the Orange Bubble? My summer plans are still in the works, but admittedly, one reason I am even looking into summer opportunities is because I have submitted to the pressure of those questions. The internship phenomenon leads me to question, at what point does my job as a student not cut it anymore? When do we cross the fine line between adolescence and adulthood? Is it when I start my junior independent work, or before then? Perhaps it was the day I walked on stage to accept my high school diploma.
Even as a sophomore and senior in high school, I had a job outside of school. But today, I am no longer seeking work at Chipotle; instead, I am applying to internships with “analytical chemist” or “hospital shadow” in the position title. In a single year, my priorities and responsibilities as a college student have forced me to grow faster than I did in four years of high school.
We should not lament our decision to go to college but instead immerse ourselves in new challenges. An entire academic year leaves us with many memories to appreciate and lessons to learn from. For sophomore, junior, and senior readers: The ways in which you have grown differ, as you’ve already experienced the shock that comes with new pressures of the first year of college. Whatever your class year, take this time to see the direction in which you are taking your life, to see how much you’ve changed, and to consider if this is the direction in which you would like to travel. Are you doing something simply because it is expected of you, or because you feel it could bring you closer to where you want to be?
Pause, and think about your experiences of this past school year. If you feel you made a mistake, try to learn from it. An important step to growth, to learning, and to getting the most out of the college experience is reflection: We cannot expect to change our lives without recognizing the forces that have led us to where we are. Likewise, think about how positive memories have shaped you this year; it would be a shame to leave them untouched. In recalling and reliving them, they will bring you a newfound joy.
We cannot allow ourselves to move through the motions of a stressed college student, running through our days, scouring for ways to fulfill requirements and responsibilities, for ways to catch up to our peers. I’ve fallen victim to this tendency. I should learn to acknowledge my growth and take this time to consider how my days have led me to where I am now.