Opinion | Cast a wide net to find the activities and clubs you love

By Jack Troy, Opinions Editor

When I arrived on campus last fall, I didn’t have a nine month plan that culminated in becoming an editor at The Pitt News. In fact, I didn’t arrive with any sort of plan outside of my class schedule.

I could certainly rattle off some interests. After realizing I was failing to leave much of a legacy behind, I founded an environmental club at my high school. Between my absolute lack of leadership experience and gardening season coinciding with the emergence of COVID-19 in the United States, we didn’t accomplish all too much. I picked up tennis that same spring and got to enjoy a full two weeks on my school’s team. Once again, the pandemic cut that short. And of course, not a day went by where I didn’t think about politics, usually through the lens of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Trying to translate these interests into participation in clubs and organizations at Pitt was a demoralizing process. Thanks to a serious case of small town protagonist syndrome, one of the first decisions I made as a college student was to run for Sutherland Hall Council President. I positioned myself as some sort of environment-first, Jay Inslee-like figure in a three-way race and — just like the Washington governor’s bid for the presidency — it ended in disappointment. I guess I didn’t do enough schmoozing in GroupMe, or maybe composting wasn’t the hot button issue I made it out to be.

With one avenue to something resembling political power closed off, I turned to Student Government Board. In a marginally less audacious move, I applied for First-Year Council and scored an interview. I proceeded to absolutely bomb it, putting the kibosh on my political aspirations.

While this was happening, I was unable to find a way to play tennis — I’m not nearly good enough to play club tennis — and my experiences with Pitt’s environmental clubs were fine, but hardly inspiring. I felt by October like I had wasted my first few months blowing opportunities and failing to get involved in any meaningful way. In no derogatory fashion towards the glorious sport of table tennis, Ping Pong Club was my lone success.

Hopefully, incoming first-year students find a bit more success their first semester than I did. It’s possible that you might find an extracurricular calling right away. I sincerely hope you do, but it’s also possible that you get to campus and strike out on clubs and activities.

This isn’t to discourage you from getting involved — quite the opposite, actually. Your first year is the time to dip your toes into a dozen different activities knowing full well you may only stick with two or three. I’m not advocating for overwhelming yourself, just keeping an open mind and a willingness to try new things.

As I was building a formidable collection of losses from the convenience of my dorm room, I was also beginning to dabble in writing again. I never wrote for my high school’s newspaper. Funny enough, my most recent work in journalism prior to joining The Pitt News was probably blogging about Brawl Stars, a mobile game that I admittedly have a residual affinity for.

But as of the fall semester, I was an opinions columnist without a home, writing and submitting a handful of op-eds to this publication that are rotting in a spreadsheet somewhere in cyberspace. 

I finally snagged a proper position as an opinions columnist here in mid-January. I wrote several columns — some good, some about the Pittsburgh flag — and made a few friends. Then I became an editor, and I’ve since written a bunch of editorials, a few more columns and, between getting to know my desk better and working with the editorial board, made a whole bunch of friends.

I wouldn’t have gotten this sleep-depriving, amazing opportunity if it wasn’t for the disappointment that riddled my first semester here. If my simultaneously self-indulgent and half-hearted hall council campaign worked out I definitely wouldn’t be writing this article, and I probably wouldn’t be writing for The Pitt News at all.

Likewise, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with Free the Planet, an environmental club on campus that I joined early last fall. We’ve made progress on some really impactful work surrounding air quality and I was even able to — get this — meet some of the members in person, many of whom I consider friends.

My early extracurricular failures were pretty crushing, especially as my friends seem to find success or at least contentment around every corner. But if I hadn’t come to college with an open mind and even a bit of legacy anxiety spilling over from high school, I likely would have missed out on my favorite college experiences thus far. I encourage everyone to avoid the anxiety part, but keep the open mind.

College is a license to try things, fail at things and achieve things that seemed far too ambitious just a short time before. Take that license and run with it. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll find — as I’ve repeatedly described joining and writing for The Pitt News — the coolest thing ever.

Jack Troy writes about politics, SGB and being tired of capitalism. Write to him at [email protected].