And you may ask yourself: how did I get here

By Allie Connell

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Allie Connell

When you’re a freshman in college, there is no professor asking you the question: what do you want to get out of your time at this university? But you can be sure that the months approaching your graduation from that institution will be laden with fellow students, teachers, assignments, even your grandmother asking you a hundred times over: what did you get out of your four years in college?

They don’t even give you the chance to finish your final weeks, days, hours as an undergraduate student before you are told to look back on it all and glean some proverbial wisdom to pass on to those you are leaving behind. Before you know it, you are thinking back to your first day of college, sitting in a lecture hall surrounded by people who range from the hung-over senior to the overinvested junior to you, the shy freshman who spent the past hour trying to find Mahar. If someone had asked that version of you what you wanted to get out of college, what would they have said?

“Alright, Allie from yesteryear, what does college mean to you?” I ask the question of a tall, lanky, gangly girl with her hair tied tightly into a messy bun on the back of her head. She’s wearing a Taylor Swift concert shirt, a pair of oversized Levi’s man jeans and hiking boots, trying to encapsulate her fashion sense of “practical femininity” with her unfortunate outfit. She’s sitting in the middle of the vast scenic construction shop at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music too afraid to leave her seat and touch some power tool that she would later confidently pretend to know how to use.

“I want to … well … I’m going to be a professional stage manager,” she says, beaming back at me, resolute that she’s got the key to her future all figured out. “When I graduate from UC, I’ll have a job at an opera house in New York City.”

“College isn’t all about your career, you know. What about friends? What do you want from your college experience socially?” I ask the leading question and watch her face contort, fully aware that she had never considered this.

“Well, I want to get drunk only once,” she said blushing, “and I’d hope that I’d have some friends to do that with. And I’ve heard that college is where people go to find their bridesmaids so I suppose I should do that while I’m here.” The words sputtered out of her mouth at the lightning speed of someone shotgunning a beer, a skill she would later learn she possessed. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at myself.

There’s something comforting in looking back at that former self. Perhaps that comfort stems from the simple joy that you no longer wear your Taylor Swift concert T-shirt in public or from the overarching realization that none of your plans really came to fruition and that you’re a better person because of it.

“First of all,” I say, adjusting my backwards baseball cap and smiling at the Allie of yesteryear, “you’re not going to be at UC much longer. Remember how your No. 1 requirement for college was to get out of Massachusetts? Well, you’re headed to UMass junior year.” Her eyes grow wide. “Don’t worry, turns out it’s the best decision you could’ve made. I’m not going to go into why because that’ll spoil your fun but let me tell you a few things ahead of time. Your current outfit is perfectly acceptable for the Valley, Rubinoff vodka is incredibly cheap and comes in an egregious amount of flavors and when someone tells you to take an acting class at 9:30 a.m., you just need to listen. And you’re not looking for bridesmaids – though you do end up finding enough incredible friends for two bridal parties worth – you’re looking for a bride, a wife, because you’re gay. Got it?”

The girl looked like she was going to vomit on her hiking boots. “If I can give you one pearl of wisdom to work with, it’s this: ‘the greatest lesson we learn, we learn in kindergarten: to share what we have and who we are.’ Write that line down because you’re going to use it in a play you write one day.” I smile at the girl I vaguely remember being.

So ask yourself – the freshman year you who reeked of potential and Natty Light who wore black skirts and Ugg Boots unironically – what did you get out of your four years of college?

Allie Connell was an assistant Opinion & Editorial editor at the Collegian. She can be reached…