Promiti Debi | Senior Staff Illustrator
One of my first social outings as a first-year was a screening of an Avengers movie on the Cathedral of Learning’s lawn. I remember walking down an unfamiliar hill — I’m from flat, flat Minnesota — and staring up at the shockingly low helicopter landing on UPMC Presbyterian with a sense of awe.
And awe is truly the right word for these incredibly new experiences — biblical awe, awe in the sense of a great and terrible god, awe at the vast unknown. There’s a completely overwhelming amount of choices available in transitional times such as arriving at college, and the breadth and depth of who you can become is staggering.
The four years stretching out in front of me seemed endless. I remember looking at Mad Mex’s menu and realizing I was still going to be in college when it was legal to order a margarita. It’s been legal for me to do that for six months now.
I’m always skeptical of the cliché that “time flies by” because I think that idea is just a perception or a trick of the mind. When I take a second to consider all that’s happened since glancing over that drink menu at 18 years old, it can start to seem incredibly distant, not achingly close.
And yet my mind tricks itself anyway, and the first day of my first year feels as strange and close a concept to me now as it did then, but it’s almost three years in the past. It may be an annoying platitude, but you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
The thing about platitudes and clichés is that they became platitudes and clichés because they were, at one point, considered full of meaning. They’ve lost that novel sheen and that new car smell, but it’s still true — you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
There’s never been a more clear demonstration of that than the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t need to spell it out, we all know what and who we lost. But there’s another category of things that we lost that often gets overlooked — small pleasures.
We lost small pleasures such as the view of the Cathedral from the hill near Irvis Hall on a spring morning, the joint suffering of studying until the wee hours of the morning in Hillman Library, sitting in coffee shops and simply seeing the dogs on campus. We even lost the little annoyances that we gloss over with nostalgia, such as the necessity of walking up and down hills and almost getting hit by buses going in both directions down Fifth Avenue.
The class of incoming first-years hasn’t experienced the little delights that going to college in Pittsburgh has to offer yet, but they also haven’t experienced having them torn away from you with no warning. What’s different about this upcoming academic year is that everyone else will be coming to campus with fresh eyes, not just first-years.
At least, it will begin that way, but humanity has an incredible ability to adjust to its circumstances. Both the seeming end of the pandemic and arriving at college highlight how new and wonderful the world can be, but I worry that we will begin taking our reclaimed freedoms for granted all too soon.
And besides our tendency to adjust, college may be incredibly difficult. I was told that college is an amazing experience and guaranteed to be the best time of my life. I’ve come to hate that idea. It doesn’t hold true for everyone, and I’ve seen and felt firsthand how difficult it can be to flourish right out of the gate.
At some point, almost every student’s classes get too difficult, or they experience crippling anxiety about what to major in or trouble finding extracurricular activities they like. Socially, I was incredibly lucky to find a group of amazing friends on my floor in my first year at college, but it really was luck. There’s a chance that, on top of studies, new and returning students need to put in extra effort to find the people that they’ll connect with.
It all depends on your socializing style — some people need to find one or two people to develop deep friendships with, others need a wider-ranging group of friends. It’s not always easy, but life is better when you get to experience it through someone else’s eyes, too. It’s not necessary to work through the difficulties of college alone.
Through these difficulties, college can feel like it takes a long time, but again, it’ll also feel like it’s over in a flash. Anyone, no matter where they are in life, would be well-served to preserve the feeling of awe that comes with new experiences.
Whether you’re a new or returning student, if you find yourself becoming bored with the college experience, find a way to spark that feeling again. Oakland, and Pittsburgh in general, have a lot of ways for you to do so if you look for them — there’s not a whole class called “Secret Pittsburgh” for nothing.
Visit one of Pittsburgh’s surprising amount of great coffee shops, such as Redhawk, De Fer or Commonplace. Visit a part of Schenley Park you’ve never been to before, pet a cat or dog if you encounter one on the street, become a regular somewhere or find a favorite study spot. If you’re like me and sometimes need a push to get out of Oakland, take a bus Downtown, even if it’s just to find a bench somewhere and watch people pass by.
Sometimes I think about that sense of awe I felt when first arriving at college, watching helicopters land on a huge building with strange people, and I catch myself thinking that I’ve somehow wasted and exhausted my precious naïveté. But the world of things to know and experience is vast, far too vast for one person to exhaust. In the first year of a post-pandemic Pitt, seize your opportunity to understand what you have and enjoy what you can lose.
Lucas DiBlasi writes primarily about politics, economics and music. Feel free to email your opinions on Weezer (or whatever else) to him at [email protected].