“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for” – Robin Williams, “Dead Poets Society.”

This is dedicated to my first-year self, who was obsessed with the validation of getting good grades, and failed to seek the happiness found in everything else that college has to offer. 

Like some people, I grew up with a family that valued academics over all else, who gave you a little extra love when you were doing great in your classes, and took it away when you didn’t. As a result, my self-worth became tied to my academic success. As an international student, I sometimes feel our parents don’t quite understand the heavy academic weight at an institution like UR, and the “toxic Meliora” culture on campus certainly doesn’t help. In my opinion, toxic Meliora is an extension of the social pressures put on us, whether by our families or ourselves. There is a difference between trying to always better yourself for yourself, and simply putting too much on your plate until you burn out from attempting to live up to certain expectations. We should all strive to do the former, but unfortunately our mindsets have been wired to follow the latter. 

For the past week, I have been going around campus asking my friends what they wanted to get out of college. Why were they truly here? As you can imagine, most of the answers I got can be summed up to one word — money. It is obviously a given that everyone who puts themselves through college sees it as a means to an end, that end being making a living in the future. And while few went on to say they were truly passionate about what they were studying, it still wasn’t their first instinct to respond with that. 

I used to believe school killed the creative spirit inside all of us, but as I get older and further into my academic career, I found that it is us who make the choice to kill that creative spirit. I am definitely not saying that you should throw your GPA out the window and go paint all day. However, we should all try to develop a long-sighted perspective on how we want to shape our lives. Do things with intent, because everything you do now will have a hand in shaping who you turn out to be, whether you like it or not. Take some classes on topics that you’re genuinely interested in learning about, not just passing. Join clubs or work on projects that resonate with you and push you beyond your boundaries. Build a community. Surround yourself with people who challenge and excite you. And most of all, embrace the fact that failure and loss are sometimes inevitable in life.

I promise you, when you look back at these four years, you will not remember the good grades or the bad grades, but you will hold in your memory the connections you made with people, the things that inspired you to create, the times you felt free and part of something bigger than yourself, and the times you learned something that made all the synapses in your brain light up at once. And so I ask you now, what do you want to get out of college?

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