Dear Freshman Year,
I cautioned myself from meeting you with high expectations. I had done too much of that already. Graduating high school in 2020 during a pandemic, I learned to lower my standards.
For months, I had secretly dreamed about the adrenaline of you. Of stepping onto campus as a student for the first time and knowing that it belonged to me — that it was mine to explore and to mold. Of rushing to class with a book in my hand like the main character in a movie. Of decorating my dorm room, of running by the Charles River, of staying up late to talk to friends about topics that only come up at two in the morning.
But during my gap year, my excitement for you melded with an intimidating feeling of uncertainty. I had always derived my happiness from looking forward: to weekend hikes with friends, to pumpkin cheesecake on Thanksgiving, to the first fateful day with you. Then suddenly my predictions came to a screeching halt. When I tried imagining the future, I simply drew a blank.
I told myself not to rely on you. I told myself that I wouldn’t believe in you until I had flown across the country and met you in person. We played the long game. And eventually you did show up, your arms wide open.
In our first week together, I felt like a newborn child opening my eyes for the very first time. Everything fascinated me. I was blown away by the way the light hit the stained glass windows of Annenberg and the glistening chandelier above the marble steps of Widener. The way people played frisbee in the yard and laid on the grass, soaking up the sun and savoring the end of summer. I remember waking up early just to have time to look out my window and take you in.
In our first month, I became close to people faster than I ever knew I could. I would look around at my friends and think, “How have I spent so many Septembers not knowing you? What did my life even look like before you came into it?”
That was always the comparison: life before you and life after you. I could not fathom how much had changed. I had gone from a year of stillness and solitude to the most socially and intellectually stimulating experience of my life. And that was only the beginning.
That fall, you brought me to football games, woke me up for 8:15 a.m. breakfast with entrymates, took me to Jefe’s at its busiest hours, and danced with me through Zumba at Hemenway. You watched my roommates and I topple over each other in the bathroom while getting ready for John Harvard’s Bar Mitzvah and cry from laughter over spilled Brita water and free couches that wouldn’t fit through our door.
First semester had this untouchable kind of magic. Friends left Tatte croissants on my desk with notes that said things like, “My love, I know you crushed it … I bet they took that psych exam out in a body bag.” I spent so much time talking to people that I started setting timers for when I’d finally start my work, naturally ignoring them once they went off. College was beginning to feel like home, but it was still a new one. Your first few months were an extended housewarming party.
The days were long and the weeks were short. Winter break came far too quickly, and the goodbyes felt rushed and unfair. I could barely understand the way time was playing out in my life — I was leaving for six weeks and I had only known my friends for twice that period. I was afraid of the slowness of home, afraid I would miss the bustle and liveliness of college more than I could handle.
Break turned out to be a long exhale. I finally had the time to think and process the past few months. When I returned to you in January, I expected to know exactly how to live my second semester. What to prioritize, who to spend time with, how to stay balanced.
The distance was good for us. But the start of the new year was not.
The first few weeks back, your imperfections set in at last. We no longer needed to try to make a good impression on each other; we no longer skimmed the surface. You disappointed me. Friends disappointed me. I disappointed myself.
I was furious with you. When I met you, I thought I could leave behind my previous anxieties and struggles and start anew. Instead, you brought them out and let them follow me. Life before you seeped into life after you.
You weren’t flawless. But you showed up. One day after another. In those moments of chaos — when I had overcommitted myself, when I hadn’t slept well in days, when I thought I’d severed bonds that couldn’t be mended — you persisted. You showed me a different magic: one I could trust.
Freshman year, I loved all of you: your best and your worst. I miss your euphoric summer and reflective fall, I miss your winter and the snow that melted before I was ready for it to go. I even preemptively miss your spring, which simultaneously breathes new life into the air and leaves me feeling unsettled. This week, the Yard exploded with pink blossoms and sunshine, and I gazed out at it bittersweetly — the two of us are nearing our end.
I want to take my time saying goodbye.
I want to thank you properly.
For what you’ve given me and for what you have left in store. For the long nights drinking tea with my best friends, for the irresponsible excitement for monthly improv shows, for the many inside jokes. Most of all, for this new, unexpected, magical life that you’ve granted me.
— Magazine writer Michal Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bymgoldstein.