In high school, I spent much of my four years waiting to reach the light at the end of the tunnel: college. As a white girl from a decently affluent background, that “tunnel” of high school was not nearly as bad for me as it was for many of my peers. Mine was made up of the typical complaints: woes of waning popularity, worrying about how people thought of me, padding my resume so that when I escaped from high school it would be to some place good. And I spent much of my time hanging out with people that didn’t matter, or doing things I didn’t actually want to so that I’d fit in. In the social nightmare that is high school, I bided my time with the knowledge that after high school things would get better.
And they did. I attend the University of Virginia — a place that’s pretty stereotyped. And yes, at U.Va., there are plenty of people who fit the stereotypes. But it has so many more people than that. In my small poetry seminar, I have found boys and feminists and international students. In my dorm I have found a rainbow through the diverse kinds of people who live there. In my friends I have found sorority girls and Midwesterners and quiet activists and Northern city-lovers. I have found diversity—geographically, racially, religiously, personally.
I’ve also witnessed some pretty amazing things that can be attributed to an environment in which speaking out and being different is promoted. I’ve seen students protest things going on in our college community and on a national scale. After the disappearance and death of a peer, I sat among a sea of undergraduates and embraced people I’d never met in remembering, in healing, in loving. I’ve listened to classmates talk about the clubs and sports and extra-curriculars they’ve fallen in love with — and fallen in love with many myself. Most recently, after a brutal media attack on the University, I joined my school in coming together in favor of both preservation and change. Here, the boundaries that enclosed me in high school are nowhere to be found. I’ve found a voice I’m proud of, people I care about, people who care about what they’re doing, and people who care about me. For all of these reasons and more, a collegiate environment is more of a remedy for ignorance than high school ever could be. And I’m telling you that, in college, things will get better.
But I’m not here to tell you, high school students, that you’re in the midst of four years that’ll suck regardless. Because I was there, too — I know it’s hard to take risks in a community in which it feels like every move you make is being judged. I know it’s hard to do what you really want to do because really, don’t you just want to get into college? And I know it’s hard to be seen with that kid that everybody laughs at but who you might actually like if you got to know him. But I do want to tell you this: you do not have to take all of the risks. But take a few, here and there. Step out of your comfort zone. Step away from the social code. Step past the stereotypes that have been laid for you. Don’t bide your time hiding just because college is a mere few years away. Soon, you’ll be in a more welcoming, understanding, and accepting place. You have nothing to lose. So why not take the leap?