by becca kilzer
my parents dropped the last load of random college necessities in the drab, cool dorm room that was to become my new home. As mom wiped a tear from her cheek and gave me a final hug, I was silently cheering, "I'm free, I'm free at last!" Three years later and only months away from graduation, I look back on that day and think of how I have gained much more than freedom.
I remember eating lunch at the Union several weeks after my first class as a college student with two friends who were juniors. They told me I looked like a freshman. Three years later, the meaning of their comment is finally clear. Something about experiencing a couple years of college life gives students a more secure, self-confident look - or in the case of a former roommate, an "I'm-wearing-my-pajamas-to-class-and-don't-care-what-you-think" look. In any case, it's no longer about trying to fit in. It's about being comfortable with who you are and not worrying if it's not the same as everyone else. It's about making friends who encourage you to grow as a person, and who accept you no matter who you are or who you become.
The changes I've undergone throughout college are subtle. I'm still the same optimistic, melodramatic idealist I always was, but there's something different. I think it is in the questions I ask, the ideas I ponder. Now, instead of dreading the 300-mile drive home along North Dakota's I-94, the straightest, flattest stretch of interstate I ever hope to encounter, I look forward to the five hours of thinking-time the drive affords me. In these uninterrupted hours, I can sort out questions about my future, like where I want to be in 10 years, or what will make me truly happy..
I've become much better at asking questions since starting college. I used to think I had all the answers. No questions were necessary. It's logical to assume that getting a degree means learning more and having more answers, but that is not necessarily the case. Sure, I've learned how to write one heck of a term paper in a few short hours (the night before it is due). I've learned the technicalities of hanging artwork at exactly eye level (a skill I mastered at my part-time job in the Memorial Union Gallery), but mostly, I've learned that I have so much more to learn..
In college, learning isn't just about what you read in books. It's more about the experiences you have. When tragedy struck my family, I learned of strength in relationships. When finals week stress became too much to handle, I learned the beauty of long walks at dusk. Six roommates in three years taught me the importance of individualism. All of these ideas have become a part of what I value, of who I am.
This isn't to say learning comes easy as soon as you get to college. This was quite clear to me on my first day as a freshman when I realized my psychology class was four times bigger than the high school I had just graduated from. But college is about breaking out of comfort zones and finding new ways to cope with challenges. The best part is, there will always be someone there - instructors, roommates or friends - to help along the way.
University instructors have an uncanny ability to see a student's potential before it is discovered, to inspire confidence before it is fully formed. One year ago, as I paged through the NDSU magazine, I would never have imagined my thoughts would be published in it. I didn't even know I could write, but someone believed in me. That's all it takes, really - just one person. NDSU students are fortunate to have many people who believe in us and want to see us find our place in the world. My supervisor at the gallery once told me the best part about her job is watching students' personalities bloom as they become more comfortable in the university environment and confident in themselves.
The greatest thing about life as a college student is the abundance of fellow students who are sharing the same experiences and having the same trials, all searching for their own identities. Someone is always willing to listen to you vent about crazy professors, or to share your addiction to ridiculous reality television shows. Without knowing, these people have encouraged me to keep searching for answers and keep believing in myself.
I know that I have not found all the answers yet - I don't think that is possible - but I am not afraid to keep looking for them. I will leave NDSU a more confident, self-assured individual. I know what I value and what I don't value. I know that I have something to offer the world.