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Word from the Wise: Vanessa Friedman

By Denebola
Published: November 2008

I remember calling my mom within the first two months of college and demanding to know how she could have forced me to go to NYU. “You just left me here, I accused. She tried to remind me that actually, I had wanted to go to NYU since freshman year of high school, and actually, I had insisted on applying early, and actually, I was the one who made the choice to attend the university¦but to no avail. It was October of freshman year, I was homesick, and I was inconsolable.

As a current junior, nearing milestones such as study abroad, writing a thesis, and’€gasp’€almost being a senior, I no longer feel the same despair as I did two years ago. I love New York City, I am well adjusted at school, I intern and work and somehow find time for a social life. Basically, I love my life and feel privileged that my parents allowed me to attend my dream school.

But something that my mom said during that fateful phone call two years ago has stuck with me as a useful thing to keep in mind during all stages of life.

Somewhere in between me crying, hiccupping, and begging to be allowed to transfer to BU, my mom managed to interject this incredibly profound statement: “Vaness, she said, “I know you’re sad. But you’re just sad today. You’re not on vacation at college¦it’s real life. You’re allowed to be sad sometimes.

Okay, just pause and reflect on that for a moment.

I know, she’s a smart lady, right?

So what is the point of this somewhat depressing anecdote? What am I trying to tell you? Nothing, really. Don’t think of this as advice. Just think of it as a tiny slice of my own personal narrative, presented in a way that may help you out at some time or another¦or not. With that said, here’s my analysis of my mother’s genius.

It is an American myth that college is supposed to be “THE BEST FOUR YEARS OF YOUR LIFE OMG OMG!!!! Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty awesome. Last month my ex-colleague David Gassko wrote an article for Denebola about how fabulous college life is, focusing on the craziness and the parties. The general gist of the article was, you think you know, but you have no idea. But I really do think you know.

We hear about the excitement of college so much growing up in this society, it’s impossible not to have preconceptions and expectations. But no one ever pauses to say: “Oh, by the way, not every single day of college will be the best day of your life. Not every single moment will be the most wild and crazy thing you’ve ever experienced.

Perhaps this is an inappropriate dialogue to enter into with a group of seniors anxiously awaiting early decision letters and a bunch of other high school students who probably aren’t even thinking about college yet. I know it’s a Debby Downer viewpoint. But I chose to write about this, as opposed to any of the many glorious aspects of college life, because the feelings of shock and unhappiness and loneliness that hit me during my first year away from home were really unexpected, and at the time I was confused as to why no one had previously spoken about them.

If I wasn’t having a good time all the time, was there something wrong with me? If I didn’t become best friends with my entire floor within the first week, was I doing something wrong? What was going on? College was supposed to be the best four years of my life¦I was wasting precious days not having The Best Time!

And that’s where my mom’s advice comes in. It is really easy to think of college as a four-year vacation, a hiatus from the real world. And, in some senses, it is that.

But at the same time, it’s important to remember that it actually is real life. Unlike summer camp, college is not just a two-month vacation. It’s not something that is separate from our day-to-day life’€for four years, it is our day-to-day life. And so if one day you wake up feeling crappy, or get stressed about something, or flat out feel sad¦that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with not having The Best Time all the time, even during college.

I’m not sure if anyone feels this pressure to be having a good time at all times during high school’€I certainly did not view my four years at Newton South that way. But if you do ever feel that way, it’s a good idea to pause and remember that it’s okay to have a bad day, a bad week¦even a bad month! Life is not a series of Best Times Ever, and it’s totally normal to have bad times along with the good.

My mom made an interesting point to me. As an immigrant from South Africa, she explained that people were constantly asking her how she enjoyed life in America. “You know, she said. “After you immigrate, you wake up every day and ask yourself, ‘ËœHow am I feeling?’ That’s ridiculous! No normal person checks in with him or herself every day¦but immigration feels like this process where you have to always be happy with the result of moving. That’s not true! My life is in America now¦and I’m allowed to have a bad day here, just like everyone else!

I suppose that’s my point: college is awesome, but bad days happen, and they are allowed. It’s a good life philosophy in general, but one that I find is especially important to hold onto during these nomadic stages of our lives, when everything seems to be broken up neatly into four-year periods that we are told to enjoy, no matter what. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t have the most amazing time in high school and an even better time at college¦but accept that it’s not a 24 hour party, it’s just life. And that’s okay.

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