As my college career comes to an end, I wonder if I’ve made the most of it.
I worry I didn’t live every Friday night to the fullest, that I didn’t take in the autumn leaves on campus enough and that I didn’t appreciate the build-your-own tacos on Wednesdays at Selleck.
Ultimately, what I think I’ll end up worrying the most about is not taking full advantage of my education at UNL.
I can’t blame this on anyone except me, but for most of college, studying into the wee hours of the morning or going to class weren’t things I did to gain knowledge. I chased the grade, trying to make my parents proud, trying to get a diploma so I could get a good job at some big newspaper in a few years.
Now, I really have no idea where life is taking me. And for the better part of my senior year, that scared the crap out of me. At times, life looked like a bleak timeline of nothingness, with uncertainty and anxiety all the way to the finish line. It took a lot of thinking and therapy to see there was reason for hope and optimism.
I see now that there is a meaning to life, and it is specifically the meaning I will make for my life. Chiefly, I want to be content, and I want to do the things that get me to that point.
That means I’m going to find the things that fulfill me and pursue them.
If that declaration seems self-absorbed, it might be. But it’s my life; I should be able to do what I want with it, right? It took me 20-plus years to come to that conclusion, and I think it’s better late than never. But I spent a lot of that time living my life for other people.
I’ve been a social follower my entire life, and I think it’s because I’ve wanted to be the most agreeable person I could possibly be. I hate tension, I hate facing conflict and I hate disappointing the people who mean the most to me.
My dad is a graduate of UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, so my decision to be a journalism major made me a legacy of sorts at the J-School. I confess that I spent about 15 minutes thinking about which major I should choose. I did it because I thought I was a decent writer and, frankly, because I felt like I had to.
There were also a number of professors in the college who knew my last name through my dad’s job at University Communication. I felt like there was an expectation for me to excel in my courses, to keep the family name untainted — to not be a disappointment.
So, I worked myself to death, staying up doing homework until 4 a.m. for much of my freshman and sophomore years. I started out as a reporter at The Daily Nebraskan during my sophomore year, too. While working here has turned out to be one of my favorite parts of my time at UNL, I initially joined because I felt like I had to. After all, my dad was the senior culture editor for a year when he was in school as well.
Anyway, I took two stories each week and quickly pushed myself hard enough to freak out at 3 a.m. when story and class assignment due dates fell on the same day.
Sometime around spring break 2017, I lost my drive to keep writing. I decided to take a break from The Daily Nebraskan for the rest of the school year. That’s when I decided there’s more to life than a GPA, taking an office job right after graduation or an $80,000 piece of paper to hang on your wall.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take a long deliberation period and question whether the specific piece of paper I was pursuing was the one I wanted. I don’t think I considered other options until the reality of graduation stared me in the face last summer. There would come a day when I would have to figure out if I wanted to continue on the path I’d taken so far — that is, doing the things I needed to do to get by and doing the things I felt like I had to do. I decided that wasn’t how I wanted to spend the next 60 or so years of my life.
Today, I am looking forward to setting a course of my choosing that blends together my talents, interests and education.
I'm grateful for how much I have grown and learned at The Daily Nebraskan and in the J-School — a byproduct of all that hard work is tons of real-world experience and genuine connections with students, co-workers and professors.
But I have a whole laundry list of things I want to do before I enter the professional world, like bike across the Midwest or play a concert in New York. I want to see the world and take some risks. If I were to take a professional job right out of college, I’d feel like I was playing it safe. If that’s your plan, more power to you. I just plan on seeking out experiences that will add richness to my life and make my professional work more meaningful when the time comes.
I get skeptical looks when I tell people that.
Just last Thursday, a worker at the Wick Alumni Center’s Gradfest asked me what I was doing after May 4. I told them I’d figure it out along the way. The worker forced out an, “Oh, okay. Well, good luck with that.”
They can be skeptical all they want, though. If I know one thing that is for certain in an uncertain future, it’s that I’ll land on my feet.
I know I might eventually see this outlook as a product of some kind of millennial arrogance. But at this point in my life, I feel pretty confident about it.
If I had started to think about this way sooner, I would have gone to class to learn, rather than sulking my way there, five minutes late and fantasizing about the next time I’d be able to go to sleep.
When I look back on college, I won’t think about the time I got a 62 on a management exam, and I don’t think I’ll ever worry that I didn’t earn the GPA my parents hoped I’d get. I’ll regret that I didn’t go to college for myself. Don’t make my mistake.
Why take any advice from me, though? I’m still figuring out what life has in store and the role I will play in it. It’s a messy business, and it will take time.
I think there’s value in being okay with that.
Co-Senior Culture Editor