Fresh Perspective | Reflecting on the fall

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical college experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

With the leaves turning shades of red and orange and Panthers starting to bundle up, that means the fall semester is almost over as we head towards Thanksgiving break. This time of year brings many changes, including who we are as people and as Panthers.

Over the past 11 weeks, we have experienced something we haven’t felt in a while — normalcy. With the COVID-19 pandemic halting in-person classes and activities last year, for many Panthers this is the first semester where we have felt like actual college students, living out our expectations for what Pitt has to offer. Between in-person classes, the excitement of football games and various activities for students to participate in, this is a great change for all of us. We have spent the last year and a half of our lives putting everything on hold — we had to. But as we turn a corner, we are able to experience college for what it really has to offer.

This has also been a season of change for me personally. I look back at the person I was this time last year at Pitt, and it is hard for me to recognize her. Having to navigate my first year of college during the pandemic made me so much more appreciative of what I get to experience this year, and in turn, has changed me as a person.

In my first-year dorm last year, I was forced to become close to the people on my floor. I remember that I cried in bed during my first night of college, thinking no one was going to like me and I even recall asking my parents to not leave me when they came to drop me off last fall. With no in-person class and very limited opportunities to meet other students, everyone on the floor became close very quickly. We would eat together, have movie nights and explore the City.

They quickly became my family away from home. We celebrated the good times and held each other through the bad. Jump to today, they are still my best friends and I even live with some of them this year. We will always share that bond of living together during our first year of college through COVID-19, and without that experience, I wouldn’t be able to call them my best friends today.

Since the pandemic hit during my senior year of high school, it’s been a while since I was in a classroom with other students. I remember being very lost about what I wanted to do in college and who I was going to be after. I questioned my major and even where I wanted to go to school. And when I got to Pitt, I never felt excited about what I was learning in online classes. Yes, I had classes I had really enjoyed, but it wasn’t the same sitting behind a computer screen.

With classes being mostly in person this semester, it has really sparked my excitement for school again. I am in a major I feel great about, and I’m taking classes that allow me to be creative and expressive. I’ve also noticed in my classes there are a lot of people with the same major. And it is nice to be able to be in a group of passionate students who have the same goals and aspirations as you — it motivates me as a student. Of course, I don’t have everything figured out on my path through college — no one does — but it feels really good to be excited about something again since the pandemic put a dark shadow over a lot of things in my life.

I also like to think I’ve changed a lot as a person. Growing up, I was a very socially anxious and awkward girl. I liked being by myself and doing things alone. A lot of times, that alienated me from others and made me less confident as a person. In my middle and high school years, I let people walk all over me. I noticed I put a lot of energy into certain relationships that were not worth it and I would get worked up about what people were doing without me, or what they thought about me. I was very insecure.

Coming to Pitt, I was put in a situation where I had to do the one thing that scared me the most — step out of my comfort zone. I had to talk to people and make connections because if I had just stayed in my room the first night of college and had not introduced myself to the other kids, I wouldn’t have made any of the great friends I have today.

I carry myself with a lot more confidence now and I don’t let people walk all over me anymore. If something doesn’t work out in my life, I move on instead of dwelling on it and overthinking every little thing. I learned to put my energy where it’s valued and stopped wasting my time on people and situations that aren’t beneficial to my growth as a person.

As the seasons continue to change, so do we. Just remember to take in every experience and use it as a learning opportunity to grow as a person. Everything happens for a reason, and what’s beautiful is that just like the leaves, we change into beautiful colors.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and college experiences, you can reach her at [email protected].