Appreciating Your College Years

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Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes. -Thích Nhất Hạnh

Now that my junior year at UNC Chapel Hill has come to a close, viewing the graduation pictures of my peers has become bittersweet. Looking at pictures of those bright-eyed, smiling faces with mortar boards and fresh diplomas fills me excitement — and a touch of sadness.

I can’t wait to find out what my post-college future holds because there are endless possibilities and opportunities to do great things with my adult life. Yet, even though I expect my graduation to be an amazingly inspiring moment, I’m in no rush. Many students in their later years of college often say things like, “God, I can’t wait to just graduate and get out of here already,” and I honestly don’t understand it. Sure, the “real world” after college is going to be wonderful in many ways, but why talk about your college years as if they were a nuisance, when in reality, you had an amazing time?

The people, the campus, the events, the atmosphere, the free food, the good days, the bad days … college is something worth cherishing. So many people complain and gripe about college until after they’ve graduated, and then they start thinking about all of those things they should have appreciated in the moment.

I hate when people say that college is going to be the best years of your life, because that means everything goes downhill afterwards, but let’s also stop pretending that college is nothing but a chore. College is a privilege, and for most people who get to go, it’s life-changing. For a lot of people, college is a time in which you learn who you are, who you want to be, and what truly makes you happy. And if those things aren’t becoming clearer during your college years, you’re probably not appreciating your time in school — which can lead to those, “I can’t wait to leave,” statements.

If you’re still in school, I think it can be a good mental exercise to take a good long look at your colleagues’ and friends’ graduation photos and really ask yourself, “When I’m wearing that cap and gown, will I feel like I appreciated my time at school? Or did I take it for granted?” If you haven’t learned anything about your personality, your hopes and dreams, or the things that make you happy, then you need to make a change.

In order to fully appreciate my time at college, I’m making it my goal to not only learn the art of advertising (my major), but also learn how to really live in the moment. I want to be mindful of the opportunities college has given me and make use of those opportunities. With my senior year approaching, I have several mindfulness goals to help me make sure I live every last day of my college experience with utmost gratitude. I plan to attend more activities after class. I plan to be grateful for every slice of free pizza. Rather than being sad when I watch all my money drift out of my bank account at the beginning of the semester, I will be happy that I don’t have to pay “real” bills (My apartment rent includes my water, electric, gas, and much more which is unheard of for most people who don’t rent an apartment near a college campus). When I text someone and ask them to grab lunch with me, I’ll be twice as glad when they can join, because it’s way harder to find friends after you’ve moved to a new city alone for a job than when you’re on a college campus surrounded by cool people your age. There’s too many things to list!

I hope that when I graduate, I can look back on my last four years and know that I appreciated every moment. Maybe it isn’t cool to love school and be happy, in fact, I’m almost certain that it’s way more en vogue for millennials to approach all things with cynicism, sarcasm, and “shade”. But you know what? Enjoying my college years is just too good to pass up. If admitting that I’m going to miss college and that I feel no need to rush through my final year makes me look like a dork, so be it. When I walk across the stage and get my diploma, my smile is going to be twice as wide.

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