Do not conform to the status quo, overcome it

Last summer, a couple of weeks after I returned home from my first year at Pitt, I had an existential moment. I remember it perfectly: I was on a break at my summer job discussing college experiences with my friends and coworkers. When it was my turn to tell my college story, I realized that mine didn’t really compare to those of everyone who’d shared before me.

In other words, I didn’t come back from my freshman year at college with something unique, something that made me different. My story didn’t compare because it lacked something I could call my own.

Rather, I spent my freshman year in a well-dug, comfortable rut. I went to class, I did my assignments and I made room for partying on the weekends. I’ve learned now that the parties are the same pretty much anywhere you go — booze and basements are a common theme. 

It was the same cycle every week, and I was content for most of it. So, naturally, college seemed pretty straightforward after that year. Just follow the routine — class, homework, party, repeat — and your life couldn’t get any less complicated.

Meanwhile, my friends from home, as I learned just before my existential moment, deviated from my beaten path. As it turns out, each made his or her own path, and each successfully defined themselves as more than just “college students.”

One started a student coalition for depression awareness at her school, and another worked to get natural fruits in his school’s cafeterias. Another started a kayaking club, and, at that point, had already raised enough money to organize a club kayaking trip down the Potomac River. Meanwhile, I sat there with my resumé of completed Netflix series.

To be clear, I wasn’t a complete lump my freshman year. I worked hard in my classes, and my grades reflected that. But I realize now that I didn’t fully take advantage of my independence.

What I know now is that we all have a choice when we get to college. Either we can conform to the status quo — be another number among roughly 18,000 undergraduate students at Pitt — or, we can rise above it.

Many students don’t realize that the latter choice is attainable because many, including myself, choose the former, more comfortable option without even realizing it. And the easier option — the status quo — is essentially what I just described. It’s finding that comfort zone that consists of going to class during the week and parties on the weekend. It’s a predictable and unchanging schedule, one that defines the stereotypical college experience but not you as a person.

With college students reporting that only nine percent of their free time is spent on student organizations, it’s not hard to imagine why this stereotype exists. 

But before falling into this monotonous rut, you must realize that you possess the power in college to define yourself, a power you have likely never had before.

It’s called independence. Independence from parents, the rigid high school structure — including its schedule, cliques and social norms — and from all of the other restraints your hometown put on you.

Independence isn’t going through the motions. If you merely do this, you are no more independent than you were in high school. You are, again, just another number.

It’s true that, in college, no one except you has the authority to define you. But you’ll get lost in the crowd if you don’t act on this notion. It’s very easy to accept the label given to you when you come to Pitt. You’re now a “college student,” which automatically is defined by classes and drinking.

But who are you, really? What are you passionate about? What do you want to contribute? These are all things that go unanswered if you follow the structure given to you. I may know your GPA, how many credits you’re taking and your class rank, but numbers cannot answer the qualitative questions.

You must make an effort to define your own self and stand out.

This means pursuing your passions and exposing them in the open college environment. And although it may not always seem like it, you have to realize that you are completely free to do so. It may require work and filling up your free time with less mind-numbing activities. But upon graduation, you’ll know yourself better than you have before, and others will as well.

Additionally, for those on the job hunt, the prototypical “college student” definition can’t inform your prospective employers of your leadership skills, ingenuity, charisma or dedication.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities described “The ability to work well in teams — especially with people different from yourself” as the number one skill employers look for in college graduates. This will not be apparent to them if you only spend nine percent of your time involved with student organizations while spending the rest of your time outside of class playing Xbox.

If not for the tangible benefits, then at least break this mold for your own sake. We only get a short window of time in adulthood to be free from the responsibilities of taxes, family and other real world functions. Take advantage of this chance you have to find yourself.

So if you love poetry, join a poetry club. If we don’t have one, make one. You have the means to do so, but it’s entirely up to you whether or not you take advantage of them.

Your college experience will be defined by what you do, or by what you don’t do. If you choose the latter, you’re destined to be just another number.


Write to Nick at [email protected]