Hannah Frishberg, ’13
If you’d asked me what I thought of college while I was applying to schools, I would’ve told you it’s an elitist holding pen that explicitly demonstrates all the reasons America isn’t a meritocracy but a standardized success-machine driven by pressure-cooker competition and misplaced priorities. When people ask me now, I tell them yes, I’m enjoying school – college is a very comfortable place. For while the admission process is unarguably a hellish experience where you learn only how to package your identity and sell it en masse, the ironic outcome is that you really do end up at a place that accepts you for the things you specifically left off of the essays and the bubble sheets.
When I realized what loners some kids had been in high school, I was shocked. New York forces maturity on its youth, grows us up at double the average rate, but it doesn’t give much of an education (thank God) in the ways of lack of acceptance. Exclusivity, segregation, loneliness, depression – sure, an NYC childhood is an AP course in all of ’em, but it hardly touches on the feeling of not belonging where you’re at.
A lot of kids come to university and experience acceptance and home for the first time. If I had flown out to the West Coast looking for a sense of belonging, I would have been sorely disappointed. Instead, I went looking for an experience to contrast 18 years of being deceptively sheltered by Brooklyn, who taught me about every kind of diversity albeit within borough borders.
Many if not most colleges are intensely white and wealthy, but the lack of visual diversity has nothing to do with how much you’ll grow just from living away from home, away from everything you know and identify with. It’s like living away from yourself and seeing what remains and what fades into your past.
Reed College accepted all of my BHSEC credits, meaning I’m on track to graduate in two years. Telling people this provokes intense reactions ranging from hearty congratulations to downright contempt. It’s unfair Reed let me wave so many requirements, they say. The administration is enabling a bad life decision because who in their right mind would want to graduate early? I would.
In addition to the small fortune I’m saving, the most empowering thing I’ve done so far in my academic career is having the drive to convince my professors I am capable of completing a diploma in a fraction of the typical time. The decision to use or not to use your credits may seem difficult, but once you’re there in the registrar’s office with a pile of syllabi (save those, they’re important!), what’s best for you should feel obvious. I declared my major my first day of class. That’s not for everyone, and when the moment comes you’ll probably know if it’s for you or not.
I miss BHSEC. I miss my Student MetroCard and its constant reminder of my youth and the feeling that I legally belonged to New York. College is not a wakeup call to adulthood, but it is the beginning of the end to the feelings of contented dependence on your parents, guiltless unemployment, and the infinite possibility of having a whole life ahead of you. It’s that Dustin Hoffman The Graduate feeling, that what-do-I-do-now-that-life-is-no-longer-being-assigned.
But there’s no use stressing over the passing of time and all the rapidly approaching tomorrows. The best advice I’ve ever been given is to be you to the best of your ability, and from there you’ll figure out what you want from college, and the reality that comes after it.