No words came to mind as I walked out of my last exam. After all, I had written two blue books filled with my analysis of Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov. I felt only ecstasy as I bounced along Sheridan Road lighter than a cloud, calling “Hi!” to the friendly faces I met. Ending Fall Quarter freshman year felt like I had just graduated from college, when really the marathon had only begun.
Now, four years later, I finally submitted my last undergraduate assignment and walked out of my last class. I didn’t feel lighter than a cloud. I was pensive. I realized this was my last walk from class. Sure, the celebrations are only beginning, but today was my last “normal” school day. Appropriately, my last assignment was a reflection journal – looking at myself and understanding who I am. And instead of high fiving my neighbors on Sheridan Road, I quietly thought about what college taught and meant for me.
Entering college, I felt like I had to “master” these four years to get the most out of them. Trying to cram in everything during my early college career came from knowing the finite time I had. The culture of busy infected my lifestyle, and being a type A personality coming to Northwestern only heightened my intense desire to fill my calendar.
I explored career options to eventually decide on two career interests within journalism and marketing, not just the one beeline career goal I expected to have leaving college. I tried clubs from online publications to marketing to volunteering. And I pushed outside my comfort zone to befriend amazing people. Feeling like I lived college fully, I gave time to my career, interests and social life. But as I’m sure you heard before numerous times, life is about finding balance. “Balance” is a tricky word for me. It’s easy to say but takes a lot of work to complete. Plus, it’s just plain vague. I didn’t know if I had found balance or not.
Halfway through college I realized what I was missing in this fast-paced lifestyle: “me” time. Sure, I devoted time my goals, but I gave little time for letting myself just be whoever Elizabeth was that year, quarter and day. Understanding myself didn’t come from completing one task and moving onto the next. My understanding came from reflecting on those experiences. I had to ask myself how I felt when I attended a meeting, went to a certain class, or spent time with a friend. Was it positive or did it feel like I was pulling a heavy weight?
So when I committed to too many obligations one quarter, every underlying feeling bubbled to the surface to scream, “Stop!” For me, it was easier to say “yes” to experiences that I liked as an idea. The hardest part was determining what to let go of and what to keep that aligned with myself. But less really became more as I felt more present with my college life. Sure, I still got busy and stressed, but I started to feel mostly in control. Even if my choices caused a headache here and there, I wanted to do them for me – not to cover all my bases. I didn’t feel like I had to be in two or three clubs just to have a laundry list of my involvements. I didn’t feel like I had to apply to X internships because everyone else deemed those companies praiseworthy. And I didn’t feel like I had to keep my social calendar pre-organized with planned lunches and dinners.
But like I said, “balance” is a tricky word for me. I’m still figuring it out. For me, balance is not making sure every “right” area is included, devoting time to each. Balance is being at peace with who I am, where I am, and what I am doing. That in itself is never stagnant, which made accepting change part of the cryptic “balance” equation. Realizing I couldn’t cram everything in four years, and instead devote time to what I truly valued made my time at Northwestern even more meaningful.
When I ended my last walk from class, my thoughts evolved into satisfaction. I can honestly look back on my college experience appreciating the good and the bad from the 11th hour of stressing to finish assignments to the chill, late-night hangouts with friends. These memories were all part of the journey with their individual purposes. Now, I know things both academically (as it should be!) and personally that I didn’t know when I skipped along Sheridan Road that first Fall Quarter. I’m sure there will be many more “last” walks to come, and each time I hope to leave with a piece of new insight.