What I Learned In First Year: A Reflection

I came. I saw. I learned many lessons.

I will never forget that morning in October when I sat outside my Economics class and wanted to cry. After all the hype of frosh week and being a freshman had gone away, I realized I felt utterly lost. I was tired from commuting all the time. I was failing at keeping up with my responsibilities at home, work, and church. I missed having the familiarity of old friends around. Everything seemed hard. I would be lying if I said I dealt with these emotions in the best way possible. I turtled in many moments. Looking back I saw that I was in a process of finding who I was again — outside of my high school identity. Over the course of the year, I learned many lessons. I tried to encapsulate all those lessons and put them into 5 summary lessons. Here goes something:

Lesson 1: Letting Go and Embracing Change

I was letting go of my old self. No longer could I depend on old accomplishments and accolades. No one knew me now. I was letting go of old friends. Although no one explicitly said that our friendships were over, there was something inside of me that realized keeping my mind in the past caused more anxiety than comfort. In many ways, old friends remind you of a different time and unintentionally keep you in that time. There comes a time when you must separate in order to elevate your own understanding and experiences. Most importantly, I was letting go of old expectations. In high school, you seem to think that everyone you think in those moments will be true for the rest of your life. After a year out of high school, I can tell you this is not true. I used to believe I was going to do Model United Nations till I couldn’t do it anymore. Little did I know that debate and writing would capture my imagination. Life is all about letting go and learning about yourself as you go along. Honestly, I never really knew what “university” entailed so I stumbled into it thinking I would just mindlessly do a degree and move on. Little did I know that you have to live through these moments. You have to feel these moments.

Lesson 2: Endurance, Grit, and Determination

My faith went through so many tests this year. There were many times that I found it hard to maintain my faith, but I thank God for my Jesus, church, and family. Being in community provided me the endurance, grit, and determination to continue going after God regardless of what my mind said. In my process, I wrote The Struggle of the Christian Intellectual and was met with messages from people who sympathized with the piece. Through the year, my own words encouraged me, God dares us to ask the questions because he knows that He is the answer. He knows that at the end of a true and honest journey, the path will lead straight to Him.” I can honestly say, this is the truest thing I’ve ever said.

My academic journey also had many ups and downs. I had so many expectations of what I wanted, but I had to learn that these expectations only came to fruition through a significant amount of effort. It took me first year to really see what this effort looked like and most importantly felt like. I realized (after many thoughts of joining the circus), that this was a journey I was willing to make. Not for my parents or for the applauds of others, but for myself — I want this.

Lesson 3: If You Fail You Will Not Die

I failed a course and I’m still alive. I have always had the problem of being a bit of a dreamer. Ever since I was little, I would have this optimism to believe that I could do things that were out of my skill range. This same optimism caused me to get slaughtered by MAT135. During the first semester, I felt like a character who was losing a Mortal Kombat round. By the final exam, MAT135 had won and that announcer man was hollering: “Finish her!” When I left that exam I knew that I should have dropped the course long ago. As one single tear rolled down my cheek, I called my mom. She spoke directly. “Gabrielle, don’t cry. Do you want this to be your response every time you fail at something? You fail in life and it’s ok — just don’t repeat your mistakes” As I walked down University Avenue at 10pm, I realized that she was right. It wasn’t that I was stupid or dim-witted. I had over-stepped. I had failed to listen to my instincts. “Never again,” I thought. “Never. Again.”

Lesson 4: Falling in and out of love is a part of life

University is hard. Not only does it challenge you mentally, but also physically and emotionally. It forces you to prioritize what you want and what you can do without. This year, I made mistakes — relationship wise. I said some things I shouldn’t have said. I did some things I shouldn’t have done, but I learned some things I needed to learn. What did I learn? I can be very petty. When your emotions get the best of you, you have a tendency of believing that the world revolves around you. In this sphere, you disregard the state of other people — especially the ones you care about the most. To be considerate is to step outside for a moment and see that there are so many more factors that exist. This reminds me of a moment in To Kill A Mockingbird when Atticus speaks to Scout about seeing people’s lives from their perspective. By doing this he shows her that she will be more compassionate and kind. I am proud to report that my favorite high school novel is very correct. Seeing life from other people’s perspective makes you a better person.

Yes, this year had many moments where I fell out of “love” with some people and things, but I fell in love with people and things as well. I fell in love with debate. I have always wanted to debate and this was the year I was finally given the opportunity to do it consistently. At first, I was petrified. I thought that I would suck or that I would be laughed out of the room, but I put myself out there and am thrilled with the results. Not only am I learning new skills and meeting new people, but I have a new way of traveling to new places. In the course of two months, I traveled from Kensington, Ontario to Ithaca, NY to represent my school. Taking a leap of faith never felt so good.

I have rekindled my love of writing. To write is to be heard. There are so many moments when spoken word gets confused and jumbled, but writing provides a medium for conveying what you feel without the interruption of dissenting voices. I believe that if you think you have something to say you should always say it — regardless if anyone reads it or not. To perfect your art is too perfect a part of your being. It’s a beautiful experience.

Lesson 5: I have a lot of growing to do

All in all, I HAVE SO MUCH TO LEARN. I’m turning 19 this year and although everyone tells me I’m grown — I feel like a fetus. With my changing perspectives and the new lessons that come with each year, I’m excited for what’s to come. I thank God for every breath, moment, lesson, and friend that comes in my path.

Here’s to the future,