As described by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, bittersweet is: “Pleasure accompanied by suffering or regret.” A simple oxymoron wrought with the sentimental memories of a million graduating souls as they all echo this shared feeling.
We all begin college in the same way: doe-eyed freshmen sitting in a sea of people during commencement, searching for ourselves. We wonder what we will pursue academically, who we will love romantically, how we will live on metaphorically and how we could ever leave behind this comforting and exciting enclave we have carved out of nothing that becomes our everything.
We all end college in the same way, with graduation. As teary-eyed seniors sitting in a sea of people, reminiscing our past naïve selves. We wonder what the real adult world entails, who we will surround ourselves with when the 9-to-5 ends, where in the world we will settle down and how to hold onto the versions of ourselves molded by accumulated introspections sparked by liberal progressiveness, fighting a society ready to swallow our souls and conform our minds.
Here are the top five regrets of the departing graduates as they reflect on their four years of college:
“I wish I could have went out of my bubble and dated more people,” said graduating senior Kyeihong Kim. “I thought, ‘After I get this job, then I’ll start dating.’ But there’s always something new that pops up.”
What a heart-arresting statement that reciprocated my idle thoughts on human connections.
As a career-obsessed and goal-oriented being, I had envisioned a road paved with internships, extracurriculars and jobs that would lead to my future aspirations with unnecessary, meandering paths paved with relationships.
An uncontrollable entity that had leverage over logic and reasoning, hijacking the heart, was a unquestionably terrifying notion. As I observed friends around me pour hours crafting a meticulous text to seem purposefully only slightly interested or cry for days over a heartache or drown in misery over a series of messy situations, I’d thank my lucky stars for a heart made of stone. But yet, there are those who manage to make it out alive while forging a connection with others.
“An uncontrollable entity that had leverage over logic and reasoning, hijacking the heart, was a unquestionably terrifying notion.”
And Kim’s advice has me wondering about the possibilities. Perhaps I can be one of those people who can juggle professional goals and relationships at the same time. But only perhaps.
Love will come when it will, but my career takes precedence.
When I look around at my peers, so many of them are unhealthily preoccupied with their GPAs.
“Don’t fixate on your GPA,” said graduating senior Jasmine Pak. “Even in college, we got in here because of our high grades and our GPA and our scores in general, and people continue to (focus on) that.”
According to Pak, this obsession with numbers creates a toxic environment.
“So I think it’s important for us to not focus too much on the numbers,” Pak said.
We place an absurd amount of weight on our GPAs. Whether or not we want to admit it, the numbers attached to our names have a hold over our self-perception.
Prior to college, I had also been the type to ruminate for hours over my grades, refreshing the page and hoping for an update that would soothe my mind, that I would not end up homeless and unemployed. After entering college, I was no longer fixated on numbers that stole hours of sleep and comfort from my already stressed mind.
As I’ve navigated many industries and built a repertoire of professional experience, I came upon the hard truth that the number I spent tears, sweat and blood obsessing over was merely glanced at by those looking to hire my experience and skills, not my test-taking abilities. If only we knew sooner, we’d be a little less stressed and a little more eager to explore the actual education being offered.
On taking classes outside of your major
“Looking back, I wish… I had taken more Decals, more interesting classes, more clubs,” said graduating senior Tim Hayes. “Like this semester: I’m taking a tango decal that I could have never imagined taking earlier.”
And this is advice that I can totally get behind.
Out of all the courses I’ve taken thus far, the courses that have truly challenged my abilities were courses that strayed far from the majors I am pursuing. As an intended molecular and cell biology and economics double major, I’ve taken a history of the English language course that truly altered my perception of humanities majors, a gender and women’s studies course that opened my mind to perspectives that I had no idea existed and a landscape architecture course that pushed me to the extent of my abilities.
“Looking back, I wish… I had taken more Decals, more interesting classes, more clubs.”
– Tim Hayes
In the landscape architecture course, the crooked lines I drew to trace the outlines of the mountains and trees were chicken scratch compared to the beautiful landscapes that were drawn by the architecture students.
There was an obvious divide between the architecture majors and the rest of the class in terms of talent and drive. The late-night hours they spent perfecting their art and reimagining the landscape to construct a model of a building outweighed my creativity and ability.
Yet when I had to present an artwork that was frankly atrocious, I did so with assertion that made it seem as if this piece took more time than the hours right before the showcase. My strength was far from art but more along the lines of public speaking.
Although this course was challenging, in a strange way, I’m glad that I took it. I learned that while art is not my forte, public speaking is.
Prior to college, I had been a very active volunteer and gave back to the community often, but now I barely do anything for the community besides the occasional donations.
It’s difficult to see the world beyond the midterms, finals, clubs and internships when I’m surrounded by like-minded individuals all fawning over the same accomplishments or stressing over minor setbacks.
But Kim has expressed regrets about living this type of way.
“Being young and naïve, it was a foolish thought that if I were to help other people it’ll take away time from myself,” Kim said. “ ‘I need to help myself first before I can help other people.’ That was kind of the mindset I had as a college student, but now I know that’s not true.”
As college students, we have tunnel vision in which we can only see the miniscule problems regarding academics, careers and social circles. We stress about the next milestone too much and, in the process, fail to see the world holistically.
On uncomfortable situations
“Looking back, I wish I could have experienced more with friends and gone out and partied and (been) more socially outgoing,” Hayes said.
I’m glad to say that I could never imagine myself having this regret since I’ve always embraced uncomfortable situations.
From wearing unconventional Sumo wrestler costumes, to frat parties, to travelling across the country ill-prepared, to sneaking into buildings late at night, I’ve had my fair share of adventures and shenanigans that will sustain me a lifetime.
In college, we are all students, but once we graduate, we will have diverging titles as artists, authors, inventors, engineers, writers, entrepreneurs, historians, mathematicians, etc. This shared safety net of being a student trying to figure it all out will cease to exist and we’ll have to face the daunting post-grad life.
It’s a death in the sense that we’re leaving behind everything we once knew and a birth in that we’re entering a life we know nothing about, so make this death count.
Exit college with a little less bitterness and a little more sweet.
Contact Nelly Lin at [email protected].