In ten years when I look back on the first semester of my freshman year, I’m going to remember the generalities: the long walk back to Forbes, the awkward initial conversations, and how much I hated Writing Sem. The details will be fuzzy, buried under the memories of my following seven semesters here.
I probably won’t remember the first night of frosh week at Cloister when I met a boy named Theodore who forgot my name the next four times I met him. I told myself I didn’t really care but still vaguely despised him until he finally remembered me the sixth time someone introduced us.
I probably won’t remember the classes I took, small seminars I selected because “I came to Princeton for the undergraduate focus” and apparently because I’d always wanted to learn about Japanese Society and Culture. I probably won’t distinctly remember enjoying the class but later on being annoyed at myself for taking it, realizing I was zero steps closer to choosing a major.
I probably won’t remember the XL Patagonia jacket I took home from Ivy one night, drunkenly mistaking it for my own. I was too embarrassed the next day to post online in an attempt to return it to its owner, so I kept it for myself, wearing it to the Street for weeks to come until karma stole it back.
I doubt I’ll remember all the emails from listservs of clubs and organizations whose meetings I never attended, or having my bra unclasped too many times by a boy I didn’t like. I won’t remember the enlightenment I felt when I discovered honey mustard at the last Late Meal of the semester or the one time that every single grape in the square plastic container was edible and I knew that there was a God (and that He must love me).
I may not recall the predictable pattern of my walk from Forbes to East Pyne each morning, strolling through Spelman at 10:46, past Dillon at 10:49, into the Courtyard at 10:53, and then to my French classroom at 10:55. I won’t remember that time in early October when the foliage was at its peak and I thought to myself, I will love this place. Future tense, not present—it was too early to say this with conviction, but I knew that it would come.
I likely won’t remember spending hours writing essays until I was bored and knew they could be better but could not be bothered to keep trying. I hope I don’t remember the last weekend before winter break when I questioned whether I genuinely liked any of the friends I’d made up until that point, and I hope I do remember the moment a few days later when I realized that yes, in fact, I love them. The feeling of uncertainty crept up on me on a Thursday night, when I mentally sifted through dinner date prospects. Somehow, none of the several people I thought of texting seemed that appealing. Thankfully that Saturday night, hanging out with my friends pre-pregame—the same people I had doubted just days before— it occurred to me just how much I enjoyed their company, how lucky I was to have met them, and how much I looked forward to getting to know them even better.
Before I came to Princeton, when I thought of college I pictured spending nights in friends’ dorms watching movies on Netflix and eating Ben and Jerry’s out of the carton. This isn’t something I was particularly excited to do, I just figured that’s what college would be like. Since moving here in September, I’ve done that exactly zero times.
I’m not lamenting that fact, just observing it—whatever vague and primarily subconscious expectations I may have had for Princeton have not really been my experience here. I think it’s because people say college is the best four years of our lives—but we forget that it is still four whole years of our lives, with ups and downs and completely average days.
When I see my friends from home during breaks they tell me it looks like I’m having the best time, they can tell from my Snapchat stories. I ruminate on that for a second and then reply that yes, I am having a good time at Princeton. But my Snaps are just one side of the story—vignettes of my happiest moments here, the moments I want to share.
It’s fun here, but I have to work hard to make it that way. My friends from home are at once fascinated by and apprehensive of the Eating Clubs and the pass/list system when I explain it to them. Some balk at the exclusivity of it and others pity me when I say I have to make an effort to go out, which is the stark opposite of their experiences—several of them are in sororities and get emails of lists of social events for the week that they can and should attend. For me and most freshmen I know, the system here has caused a lot of social stress, some of which has subsided now that one semester has passed and my friends and I have gotten to know more upperclassmen.
I’ve established a sort of script for how to answer when people ask me whether I’m liking it here: “It was hard in the beginning, understandably, and the social scene is pretty exclusive toward freshmen because of the passes and lists as well as the freshman rush ban, which can be hard sometimes. But I’ve met such incredible people, I already have so many close friends, and the campus is seriously so beautiful. Overall I’m really happy with my decision to come here,” is typically how it goes.
What I’ve realized is that I shouldn’t get complacent—the best years of my life won’t necessarily come to me. I have to pursue them. And again, the best years are still whole years. There are bound to be boring and uneventful days. The key is to make the good times really good, and I’ve been trying to do just that.
There’s still so much Princeton to know—lots of classes to take and study spots to discover and friends to make. The best thing about being a freshman one semester into Princeton is that it will probably only get better as time goes on, as I’ve already experienced this semester as well as from what I hear from most sophomores and upperclassmen. Ten years down the line, I may not remember all the details of this past semester or even the semesters to come, but I’m hoping I’ll remember them fondly, as I already have as a second-semester-freshman looking back on my first.