First-year fall is a daunting hallway full of unmarked doors — you have so many opportunities, and it’s impossible to know in the moment which will help you feel fulfilled in your next four years. Unfortunately for all of us, most doors in this hallway will never be opened: so many potential lives are left unexplored. Closing too many of these doors is all too easy, but it also leads us down a path of least resistance. Keeping too many of these doors open can be overwhelming; too much choice isn’t always a good thing.
The best advice I ever received before my first year of college was simple, to the point: just say yes. Hate your roommate but he asks if you want to go to some lame frat party? Everyone you’ve met by day two has plans so you’re afraid to go to that orientation event alone to try to meet people? Danny, that boy on your floor with a few screws loose, wants you to help him toilet paper the RA’s bedroom while they're out doing room checks? Put aside the easy “no.”
As a first year, I attended the University of Pittsburgh. That first week of school felt like it lasted a month. Or 24 hours. Time doesn’t feel linear when you’re a nervous wreck. Every night the hot summer sun would set on me, and I would lament how I had still yet to find any friends, how I found my roommates utterly boring, how embarrassingly homesick I was, and how every door I walked through up to that point had led me down this dark and narrow hallway.
I said “no” too much. Why go on a walk around campus with your roommates if you’re sure you’ll never be friends with them — not in a million years? Why look up from my phone when having dinner in the cafeteria if the conversation my hallmates were having was completely inane to me? Saying “no” justified everything my mind wanted to believe. I didn’t belong at that school, I would never find my people there, and hell, I knew that from the very beginning.
Something changed on day four, however. I remembered something I had been told by one of the dozens of adults who invariably tried to impart wisdom upon every high school graduate they encountered (yes, I see the irony here). They told me to say “yes” — to everything.
That night, after a tearful, frustrated call with my mom, I checked my phone. The bliss of an hour’s worth of missed notifications lighting up my screen gave me some momentary happiness. I saw a text from one of my roommates asking if I’d like to go to a party with them later that night. Little did he know, I had spent the last hour on the phone ranting about them. Boy, I could be a dick back then. He presented me with a door, one that hours before would have seemed unappealing. I walked through anyway.
Perhaps this is the point in the story where you think we bonded, became best of friends, and did everything together. Where you find out one day he’ll be the best man at my wedding. No. We don’t talk. We haven’t in years.
However, at that party I met a group of first years from a different dorm. By the end of the night, I went home with them and we hung out at Schenley Park on Pitt’s campus for hours. A few of them became my first college friend group. That door was more than what it seemed.
Understand that saying “yes” is praxis. The truth is that not every “yes” is a good decision; not every door opened has treasure on the other side. But more often than you think, a good day at Penn starts by opening one unremarkable door and ends with a dozen more doors unlocked.
Follow your heart, not your mind — when you’re 18, only the former is fully developed anyway. Of course, this is far easier said than done (had I followed my own advice after transferring to Penn my sophomore year, I probably would’ve found my way on campus far quicker and maybe even graduated with a job). Really, you’re listening to advice from someone who is graduating without a job!
Everyone wants the same thing that first week of college: friends (and fame, prestige, money, better food options at Commons, their Soundcloud to pop off, a Nintendo Switch). Very rarely is the kid who stayed in that hallway, far away from any doors or uncomfortable situations, the one with the best story to tell. Enter all the doors you can (except your front door until quarantine is over). Remember that action is almost always better than inaction.
ELIAS RAPPAPORT is a College senior from Philadelphia studying Intellectual History. He served as Senior Editor for Under the Button on the 136th Board. Previously, he was a Staff Writer for UTB.
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