on pep rallies, dorm life, & becoming

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It was College Spirit Day at school last week. The staff and students all wore college t shirts, student athletes from Millsaps and SGA representatives from Tougaloo came, we decorated doors. Various pencils/stickers/pennants from different schools were distributed. We had a pretty wild pep rally, by elementary school standards.

All week leading up to the actual day, my students and I had lots of conversations about college. They wrote journal entries about their thoughts and plans for their futures. Then, after we journaled, my kids made tracings of their hands and wrote about their college dreams for our door. They all said things like “I want to go to Mississippi State and major in art and play football” or “I want to go to Jackson State and major in biology and be on the dance team.” I thought about how, if I had done this exercise as a 17 year old, my final product would have said something like “I want to go to Berry College and major in anthropology and work on the newspaper.”

(…and how, four years later, it would say, “I went to Mississippi College and majored in communications and then changed it to English and then actually graduated with a Spanish degree, even though I thought I hated foreign languages. I cried over a couple of different boys and then senior year this guy in my Greek class asked me to be his girlfriend and I said no. A year later I married him. I learned I have issues with perfectionism and worry. I went to a church that changed so much of how I see the world. One fall day I stood outside the English building and read an email that said I got accepted to Teach for America. I never worked on the newspaper.” Anyway, moving on.)

During College Spirit Week, I explained to my students about extracurricular options, what a major is and how it connects to career, how student abroad works, and how you can get scholarships. But most of the stuff I really wanted to tell them about college, I couldn’t. They’re too young to understand. What I really wanted to tell them is this:

“College is big & loud & wild. You’ll feel things there that you’ve never felt before; things inside you that have been asleep your whole life will come alive. No matter how much you love (or hate) high school, when you get to college it will start to melt away; your memories will get fuzzy around the edges.  This is ok.

Dorm life can give you friendships deeper than any you’ve ever known, complete with whispers in the hall and nights with ten people piled into a 12×12 room. You’ll deal with a crisis at least once a week, but there will be lots of joy too. You’ll stay up really, really late with disgusting frequency, for reasons both completely silly and utterly important.

And somewhere in there, you’ll learn some things. If you do it right, you’ll learn some stuff about American literature and organic chemistry, but mostly you’ll learn about who you are. About who you want to be. About what to do when those two things don’t even come close to matching up.”

Right now you’re thinking and planning about what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go. That’s normal. But one day, when you’re in the thick of it (or maybe not til a couple of years after), you’ll realize that really, this whole thing… college, marriage, life, it’s not about where you go and what you do. It’s about who you become.”

And that’s the thing that’s so hard to understand. As a seventeen year old, I had it all planned out. I knew where I was going to go and what I was going to do. But I didn’t realize until I was in the thick of it that, really, it wasn’t about all that. It was all about who I was going to be. I’m preaching that to myself today. Seven years later, there are a lot of things I don’t know about where I’m going or what I’m doing. But I have a pretty good idea of who I want to be. So whether you’re cutting construction paper in 4th grade, cramming for a midterm in college, or just trying to figure out what it means to live in this world–here’s to holding on and stepping out in faith, trusting that who we are becoming is so much more important than the details along the way.

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