A few days after I received my college acceptance letter, I had a panic attack. Not a real one, I suppose, but the kind that forces you to pause your episode of Orange is the New Black, actually sit upright in bed, and gawk at your computer screen. Some kid, far-removed from my preferred reality, had posted on our class wall about his or her presidential interview/time-travelling device/revolutionary movement/new book deal/cure for cancer and I felt, as most purportedly-ambitious and undeservedly-competitive pre-college teens do, a little… wronged.
Here I was, binging on Netflix TV shows, Lord of the Rings movies splayed across my bedroom floor, all with my gaping mouth half-full of cheese puffs. I hadn’t gone to the gym in weeks, I had just discovered a hole in my left sock, and for goodness sake, now this kid—who was this kid anyway?—had to go and make my day even less extraordinary. How dare you, Random-and-Probably-Actually-Quite-Pleasant-Teen, do this to me?
Thus, with the class page still open and in front of me, I went through the five stages of grief. Jealousy, Indignation, Suspicion, Potato Chips, and finally, where I am now: an odd, extremely aware state of contentment.
Truth be told, the first three stages kind of hit you all at once: like getting mugged, beaten up, and then left for dead in a dark alley. The jealousy part needs no explanation, and, like being mugged, is probably the most innocuous. Indignation and coming up with your own excuses inflicts the real pain. I didn’t have the resources to do that, or else maybe I would’ve! My school didn’t offer those kinds of classes! Left to justify yourself to an impassive and unsympathetic computer screen, you realize that the psychological damage has been done. The final blow, scathing suspicion, does you in: They’re probably just bragging. This has to be inflated.
For the sake of the metaphor, you’re now crumpled on the floor with a punctured lung and four broken ribs. As you struggle for your last breath, you realize: you’re going to die alone, cold, and broken. Except you won’t, because you’ve already paid for fall semester. You’ll have to go to school and face the physical manifestations of all of the missed opportunities and unfulfilled creative rumination in your life.
In reality, of course, this Spanish soap opera lasts about a minute before you’re resuming a rudely interrupted date with cheese puffs and some seriously disturbed inmates. You realize that maybe you should’ve pursued drama (these melodramatic tendencies are wasted in economics), and heck, you might even pick up a “grown-up” magazine like Forbes later.
Because here’s the beautiful, wonderful, fantastic and not-even-contrived universal cure to this madness: going to college. Or rather, appreciating the fact that you’ll be able to meet all of these teen geniuses: take the same classes they do, beat them in a game of ultimate frisbee, run alongside them in the same gym (Kidding, kidding. Hanging out with them before they hit the gym, and then heading to the nearest coffee shop, let’s be real.)
The last stage of the process leaves behind an important mentality for all college-bound kids, both of the cancer-curing-book-writing variety and of the unassuming future cancer-curing-book-writing variety: You have many years to [insert great deed to humanity here]. Just because someone is doing it now doesn’t mean you will never be able to take your turn. It doesn’t even mean that they’re ahead, which leads me to the inexplicably-difficult-to-understand second point: the irrelevance and, in fact, impotence, of the term and notion of “being ahead.” It’s left behind in high school, packed away along with varsity letters, student council plaques, and senior year transcripts—and that’s liberating. Because I’ll take a moment to be completely serious here: these teen demigods remind us everyday that there are a million things that we could do that we never even thought were on the table. I didn’t know I was supposed to be building a corporation yet! We’re supposed to be saving lives ALREADY? And when we applied, other candidate’s achievements intimidated us. But we’re no longer “candidates,” and neither are they. In college, all freshmen start out together on the same footing.
This isn’t to cheapen or undermine the impressive work already completed by the Random-and-Probably-Actually-Quite-Pleasant-Teens. This is to remind everyone that, from now on, you are peers; their curiosity can become yours, your knowledge can become theirs, and that crazy project of anyone’s can mean an incredible academic experience for everyone. For the first time, your possibilities are actually endless.
You’ll befriend that future-president-with-a-White-House-internship and offer her perspective on your community. Perhaps you’ll meet that cancer researcher and, although you’re an anthropology major, be inspired to pursue medical humanitarianism. Maybe you’ll date that book writer and inspire his next best seller when you leave him devastated over your cruel and inhumane break up the spring break of junior year.
So here’s a message to everyone, including the Random-and-Probably-Actually-Quite-Pleasant-Teens, from me with love: Eat those cheese puffs. I’ll see you in the fall!