Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

It’s difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that at this time last year I was slogging my way through the end of senior year, battling the last of my IB and AP exams. My, what a difference a year makes! I have not changed radically: my hair is still its natural color; I have yet to get a tattoo, and I dine on oatmeal for breakfast every single morning. Little quirks remain the same, though perhaps I embrace them more than I did in high school. The largest changes I’ve experienced float across on a more subtle level, affixing themselves in the backdrop of my character.

Before I start to sound like a babbling county fair mystic, allow me to elaborate. My college experience has forced me to investigate my beliefs and ponder where my values lie. The combination of a brand new environment and total independence leaves you no other option than to grow a stronger conviction in what you stand for. This may be completely opposite of what you brought with you to school, but that is the beauty of maturing and forming your own opinion. Of course, I would be lying if I claimed smooth sailing. There were many situations where I felt confused or conflicted or downright bewildered, all of which went into shaping my resolve. Soon-to-be-graduating seniors, get stoked for a completely new world.

I realize that my first year of college will be unique compared to others’. It’s hard to explain this unless you’ve personally experienced it, but there’s nothing quite like going to a school in Utah as a non-Mormon. As a cultural minority (Mormonism is basically an ethnicity), I was a tad freaked out by how devoutly religious the majority of my peers were. Again, freshman year strengthened my personal beliefs more than I imagined it would, and maintaining my identity in a sea of uniformity aided that in leaps and bounds. We’ll end this discussion here for now; I’ll explore this topic more another time.

Another major shift that occurred came in part because of my running and dealing with injury. I’ve become more mindful, focusing on the present. Mindfulness embodies becoming more attuned to yourself so that you are then able to tune into others more readily. Dwelling on the past and stressing about tomorrow do nothing to make the present productive. It all boils down to perspective: it’s all in your head. “Mind over matter” applies to so many college-y things, from studying for a huge exam rather than going out to working up the courage to tell someone how you really feel (I speak for all my fellow introverts here). Note the little things, like a friend letting you crash on their couch or a stranger pausing to hold open a door. Keep life balanced and focus on mindfulness as a way of life. You may surprise yourself at the plethora of pleasant side effects mindfulness yields.

Everyone’s college experience is going to be different. By no means do I speak for the masses, though I do not hesitate to make the generalization that freshman year will spit you out a different person in some aspects. My advice to rising college sophomores stems from the changes that I’ve personally witnessed and continues as follows.

A few things to keep in mind during your last summer as a kid: as you figure out what you stand for, delve into what you’re passionate about. For me, I found out that I am deeply interested in the notion of being a “locavore,” that is, finding out where my food is coming from. Local eating and communal living have wound themselves together in my social and academic life. The simple things led me to this discovery: I developed a finer palette for locally roasted, fair-trade coffees, I read books on the Western food industry, and I took classes that picked my mind for out of the box ideas.

I mentioned balance in my spiel about mindfulness, and here it is again: be spontaneous, but not to the point that you are doing things without enjoyment. Do what you do because it makes you happy. When you’ve achieved personal joy, others can’t help but feed off it. In the end, what you put in is what you get back, so limit the amount of time you spend in your dorm room watching Netflix and get out there and explore your new environment. The world has oodles to offer but it’s not going to come walking into your palms.

Good luck to you, high school seniors, in your final push to the finish line (which in all honesty, is really just the beginning of something infinitely better than grades nine through twelve).

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the author

Liz Winters is a freshman at Utah State University. She graduated from high school as a full IB Diploma Candidate. Now a member of USU's cross country and track teams, she is as busy and happy as ever. When she’s not running around her college town of Logan, Utah or up a mountain, chances are pretty good she’s either eating peanut butter or playing the flute. You’ll never catch Liz without her water bottle, though she is quite the tea and coffee aficionado (fair trade certified preferred!). Liz has a terminal case of wanderlust, fueled by plans to minor in French. A granola girl at heart, she's planning on majoring in Conservation and Restoration Ecology. Sustainability has blossomed into passion for the planet, and this translates into a love for learning and spreading the sustainable spirit. Liz still doesn't know what she wants to do when she "grows up," but that's just fine because the adventure is all in the journey!

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