I don’t believe that I would have liked my first-year self very much. That version of Leora was remarkably set in her ways. She stuck to certain ideas strongly, like that everyone who drank alcohol was bad, regardless of quantity and context. Sophomore Leora softened a bit — she realized some of the drinkers were OK — but she still silently vilified them and thought drinking was a mortal sin.
First-year Leora also believed that everything that happened after 9 p.m. on campus was part of the admittedly much longer “devil’s hour.” Any evening meeting was sure to devolve into debauchery and drunkenness, she thought. Anyone who wanted to meet afterwards was bad, and going to any parties — with or without alcohol, on a weekday or on a weeknight — was absolutely out of the question for any moral person.
The list could go on, really: First-year Leora was absolutely set on majoring in a different department — and nearly refused to consider her current one — and dismissed dozens of people from being her friends because they drank alcohol or did things after 9 p.m. Making things worse, she responded exceedingly poorly to criticism or any kind of change. It made for a difficult first year at Princeton: It was my way or the highway.
Now, in the twilight of my undergraduate career, I realize just how glad I am to have changed over these past four years. In reality, some parts of me really haven’t changed: I still don’t drink very much, and my morning-person, introverted personality prevents me from doing much of anything, particularly with people, after 9 p.m. However, I’ve stopped believing that my way is the only way. Even better, I’ve stopped dismissing people who do drink alcohol or do, say, see a movie with friends at night or — gasp! — go to a party. I still don’t love drinking or going to parties, as I felt as a first-year, but I now hold that there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so. There’s plenty of other ways one can spend time, even after the “devil’s hour” — even as a senior, I still like to spend my evenings reading books or stress-cleaning. That said, other times, I host parties in my room for my a capella group or watch a movie with friends, sometimes late at night — and sometimes with alcohol. Some of these events have been the most meaningful for me at Princeton, and I never would have taken part in them had I held by all of my first-year rules.
On a more academic note, had I really stayed firm in everything I believed in my first year on campus, I wouldn’t be a Slavic major — arguably my best decision at Princeton. I would have chosen the path I thought I liked without ever doing the close examination that forced me to change in favor of something that really represented me and my interests. Had I not deviated from the rules I set for myself then, I would never have made many of my closest friends. Had I never challenged the beliefs that I held, I would never have shaped the worldview I currently hold, which has since expanded greatly. Trying things that went against my preconceptions have led to the life I now happily lead.
Whether we are in our first or final years at Princeton, it’s worth challenging our assumptions in order to determine whether or not we actually believe it. It's in our own best interests — as students and individuals both — to figure out who we’ve been telling ourselves we are, and who we actually are. Once we take the time to figure out the latter, we may discover someone completely new and waiting for a chance to grow.
Leora Eisenberg is a senior from Eagan, M.N. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.