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Student Series Round-Up: Finding Community in College    

Student Series Round-Up: Finding Community in College

Art by FISK

At Madhappy and The Local Optimist, we think a lot about what it means to be part of a team: the shared purpose, collaborative energy, and built-in support that comes with it. Being part of something bigger than ourselves is one of the most rewarding aspects of life, and one that we get our first taste of in school, when shared pride and learning bring us together.

In line with our Madhappy Alumni collection launching today, which at its core is about spreading optimism and building a community, we asked some of our previous Student Series writers to reflect on the connection, community, and purpose that can come from being in college. Check out their stories, below.  

Aren Barnes, Spelman University ‘21

My experience in college is synonymous with positive change and growth. While at times it felt as though I was being thrown to the metaphorical wolves, friendships and collective thinking provided me with the tools necessary to navigate my time in school. When I think of college, I realize that the most significant impact it made outside of the academic knowledge I gained lies outside the classroom in the relationships I formed while in school. 

My college experience is represented by the friendships that have turned into family. It's defined by the endless championing that we do for one another and the doors that we leave open for one another. It's the 2 AM conversations, the family dinner invitations, and all the things that I didn't want to go to but ended up loving and learning from. My evolution came in between the concerts and after-school clubs, being pushed outside of my comfort zone into something better. It's in the political debates, the hard conversations, and the new perspectives always being offered. It's in the group chats and the shared mentorship and the seized opportunities. It's represented by the impossibly hard classes, the learning how to ask for help, and the group study sessions. It's in the new music, the shared playlists, the podcast recommendations, and the book swaps. My college experience is in the road trips, the standing Sunday coffee shop meetups, the group grocery store runs, the rides to the airport, and the summer visits to each other's homes. It's in the breakdowns at therapy, our health struggles, the group hospital trips, the waiting room sessions, my autoimmune disease diagnosis, and in my friends joining my autoimmune diet so that I didn't have to suffer alone. It's found in the last-minute U-Haul trips to storage units, the shared clothes, the shared successes, the shared food, the Friday night dinners, and the permanently unlocked front doors. 

Changing during this time was inevitable, but my time in school offered me the chance to do so while also introducing me to a community of people who continue to expand my way of thinking far more than I ever could have done on my own. 

Molly Jones, University of South Carolina ‘22

When I started college, everyone in my life that had graduated or been to college always said, “College flies by. Make the most of every second,” and I kind of brushed it off. But now it’s my senior year, and I’m asking myself, “How is it already senior year?” because they were all right. It really has flown by, and it’s hard to believe that I only have two semesters left of undergrad. When I sit and really think about how my experience in college has impacted the person I am, I get emotional because of how much more independent and confident I have become. College is always “Go, go, go,” and I have yet to pat myself on the back for all of my accomplishments and achievements thus far. So I’m going to take a moment right now to pat myself on the back because I deserve that and so does everyone else who has made it this far in school or graduated or worked their butts off in other aspects of their life. 

I’ve become a better version of myself because of the amazing community I have formed in college. Since I am far away from home, I’ve had to learn how to find a support system that makes me feel at home and has become my family. Getting involved in my sorority, dance marathon, being a group exercise instructor at our school rec center, and taking as many opportunities that come my way has been the main reason college has been my happy place. While there have been many times where I spread myself too thin from being involved in lots of different organizations and activities, it also taught me to manage my time better and helped me form incredible connections.

I’ve learned how to be independent, but also lean on my friends when I need help or am really struggling. I think sometimes the hardest thing you can do is ask for help, but college has taught me that you do not need to do everything alone. Finding people that will uplift me and make me feel like the best version of myself is the reason I have made it this far. It’s the reason that I look forward to working hard and creating friendships that will last a lifetime. 

Saskia Klinkenberg, University of Otago ‘19

For me, the choice to go to university after high school wasn’t a fully conscious one. I wasn’t going for any particular reason – I didn’t know what I wanted to study, I just wanted the experience that came with it. “What are you going to do after high school?” The question that every teenager hates hearing, except, at my school, for the lucky handful who have known they’re destined to become the next [prime minister] Jacinda Arden since kindergarten. My answer was always: “Oh, I’ll probably just drift down South and do something science-y.”

Yes, maybe I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study and yes, perhaps I was delaying heading out into the “real world” for another few years, but I knew that I wanted the university experience. I had no idea what that looked like, though. I can look back now at that experience and see how I’ve changed as a person since I made my decision at 17. I have no regrets about my slow drift down South. I’ve made some of my closest friends in this city, even though at the beginning, I was worried that I would never make the kind of friends I was “supposed to” during this time. I’ve experienced a lot of highs and lows of young adult life and learned more than I realised there was to learn about who I am and who I want to be. I’m still learning about what it is that I actually want to do for my career, but I know I’m on the right track to wherever that is. 

My university experience, it turns out, taught me more than just what I needed for my degree. The people, the city, and the student culture helped to shape 17-year-old me into a more experienced, self-confident, more authentic version of myself. I don’t know how I would have transitioned into adult life without the tether that was my uni experience. Through my residential hall, classes, and sports teams, I’ve met an amazing conglomerate of people, the closest of whom are still here to share a laugh with and support me. These people are deep down the most important part of what going to university represents to me.

Lauren Baldinger, Cornell University ‘23

Coming from a diverse breadth of backgrounds, college students all follow their respective paths to one collective campus. Suddenly, familiar and predictable paths are met with the scramble of newness. For these short years, our paths intertwine, and before we are re-released into the seemingly-endless opportunities ahead, we have the privilege of experiencing this messy and chaotic, yet absolutely satisfying and rewarding chapter. 

Within the shared scramble of paths and all of its ups and downs, it has been the most rewarding experience to feel myself grow in every way possible. Academically I have reached points I had not dreamed of years back, and commenced my professional journey during my most pivotal years. Most notably, I have turned friends into family that I feel like I have known for decades. These relationships are authentic and unconditional, and as we navigate our more independent lives, we support one another wholly. 

When the time inevitably comes for our paths to finally untangle, I am confident that the road ahead will look a lot clearer, and I know I won’t have to move past this chapter alone. To me, the remarkable opportunity of attending a university is the possibility and endlessness of inventing and reinventing oneself, and I am eternally grateful for what I hold in my present and what lies in the unfamiliarity and excitement of the future.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414