My situation is surely unique. Not everyone finds themselves turning eighteen years old on their eighteenth day of college. Eighteen is a number that carries a lot of significance. In American culture it means becoming a legal adult. In Jewish culture eighteen symbolizes Chai. For me, eighteen is most significant because it is my first birthday while living independently, away from my family, in college.
A month ago, this idea terrified me. Who wants to celebrate a milestone birthday in some new, foreign place with total strangers? It turns out that is not the case—l have the privilege to celebrate my birthday somewhere I can already call my home, surrounded by some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I can say this after just eighteen days here. Each day here at Brandeis, each moment even, I am learning more about myself as well as the world around me, and only a small fraction of this learning has taken place in a classroom. In fact, the most important learning, what I call “life learning,” has taken place during things that are a part of what is now my daily routine.
1. Social media cannot compare to in-person connections with people
After meeting so many people through Facebook, Skype and GroupMe, and shamelessly stalking a few Instagrams, I came to school feeling as though I had a connection with some amazing people. This virtual connection is nothing compared to meeting in real life, which I can promise is a million times better.
2. It feels empowering to be a part of a group that has come together for a specific purpose
Choosing to come together for any reason is a small taste of the freedom in which I have recently found. When a large group comes together with an aim for social justice, it makes the group feel unstoppable.
3. Do not be afraid to fail
This especially goes for little things in which failure does not even have consequences. The rewards can outweigh the risks.
4. First impressions mean nothing
After meeting someone on campus for the first time, it easy to form an opinion of them, good or bad. It turns out that the first few days of college are (understandably) terrifying for everyone. This puts people on edge, and the pressure to put one’s best foot forward results in people acting in ways they normally do not. Wait for the dust to settle before forming an opinion of someone.
5. Knowledge is powerful and incomparably valuable
If ignorance is bliss, then knowledge is power. Knowledge is the ammunition in the war against oppression, disease, violence and even environmental destruction.
6. It is okay to let someone else take care of you as long as you can take care of yourself
This may not be true for everyone, but it is important for me. I have spent most of my time taking care of others around me. I am the group mom. It is hard for me to have a good time without worrying about others and even more difficult to then allow someone else to take care of me. It is an important lesson though, because we all need someone to take care of us: in the case of a physical emergency, but also because it is good to feel taken care of everyone and a while.
7. Strong relationships can withstand distance
Whether a relationship with a friend, romantic partner or family member, if the relationship is strong enough, it will have no trouble withstanding distance in college. I did not used to believe this, but I have been happily proven wrong. Watching my friends here maintain strong relationships with their significant others who are far away has given me a new faith in not only my generation, but in love itself.
8. The worst of things can often turn into the best of things
Learning to let things fall into place is difficult for anyone, especially a control freak like I can be at times. I have learned to trust that things will work out, and what seems like the end of the world can actually become the beginning of a whole new world.
9. My mom is always right
From laundry to love, this one is unconditional.
10. Independence is initially terrifying
When you are solely responsible for yourself, your successes and failures are all your own. Realizing this indistinguishable ownership is contradictory, because after spending so much time longing for freedom it is conflicting to be afraid of that same freedom. It is okay though, because everything that is new is a little bit scary.
11. Listen to everyone who will gift you with their voice
If someone is willing to open up to you, recognize the gift you are being given. Everyone has something of immeasurable value to say, so listen.
12. Alone time is valuable
Just because you can be social 24/7 does not mean that you should.
13. When big things come together little things have less importance
All problems and concerns are relative, and seeing big picture parts of my life come together has allowed me to hardly care about a bad hair day.
14. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Learning to laugh at myself was unbelievably challenging, but is highly rewarding. This process is easily catalyzed by the creation of a finsta (fake Instagram or friends Instagram) on which you can use comedic self deprecation to laugh at yourself, but also feel good when people think you are funny.
15. You do not need a reason to celebrate or have fun
Life is always worth living, and every new day your given is worth at least a toast.
16. Do not waste your time with anything you do not really love to do
Time has become something scarce and of extreme value to me. It occurred to me that I simply do not have time to waste doing any extra activities that do not make me incomparably happy.
17. Do whatever it is you love to do
Going off of the previous, if you love some activity, you should be doing it. You will make time for practice if you love your sport, you will find space in your schedule to draw if you are passionate about art and you will finish your homework beforehand if you want to make it to orchestra practice.
18. I am incredibly lucky
The only way I can summarize my time here and everything I have learned is by recognizing how lucky I am to be here learning these things. I feel lucky to go to a school that has so many amazing opportunities to acquire knowledge and to better the world. I feel lucky to be surrounded by a group who I truly feel are “my people,” who understand me and love me for who I am. I feel lucky to have learned so much about myself in these short eighteen days. I feel lucky that these eighteen days have made every part of my past eighteen years worth it, because these days have given me a purpose and a drive and a reason to keep pushing forward. Most of all, I feel lucky to have so many more days here.