By Michael Burten
Your time at college is going to be the best years of your life. It doesnt get better than this. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the next step is going to be the real world.
I dont know when I first heard this; it feels like something that Ive always known without thought or question, some bit of knowledge that was passed down generationally a tacit acknowledgement that when and if you made it here, you made it. As I see it, primary and middle school are there to shape you into a semi-functioning human being whos not going to fling his feces at the wall and gnaw the erasers off the back of his pencils (I was sick when they taught that second bit). Those years never felt goal-oriented to me. They were what they were. I went to class because you go to class; I did my homework because you do your homework. If there were any goals that drove those formative years, they were immediately attainable in the form of parental bribes such as being let out to play with my friends Cameron and Yotum or getting a new pack of Pokemon cards. But it must have been sometime in that foggy part of my past when I learned that unquestionable axiom that it doesnt get better than college, and by the time I graduated middle school, the landscape of my future started to fill in beyond the borders of independent weekends or birthdays, and the ideal of college began dominating whatever internal dialogues ran my young life.
It was then that I not-so-much decided that high school was only a crude means to a perfect end, but that it was made apparent to me by the way my peers, parents and teachers treated our time there. Simply put, I wasnt there to learn. I did learn, somehow (through osmosis?), but thats not why I was there. The best way I can describe it is through something of a parallel.
In the Jewish tradition, before a kohen (a member of the priestly class known as the kohanim) recites the words of the Nesiat Kapayim, or a groom can break a glass to remind himself and his new partner that all joy is coupled with pain, or a devout follower enters on Yom Kippur to ask Gods forgiveness for his sins and transgressions, it is the established custom that one takes a ritual bath known as a mikveh to purify the body before entering sacred ground. College was sacred ground for me, ordained and holy in a very honest way, spoken of with longing and hope like Ive heard many Christians speak of salvation. I saw high school as my mikveh. It was long and arduous, painfully boring, and at many points almost unbearable, but I bore it and I kept going because I saw those alabaster gates before me shining with Gods own light and I knew (good theist that I am) that all my trials and tribulations were but a test of mettle to prove me worthy of the prize.
And then it happened. I gave the blessing, broke the glass, confessed my sins and here I am. I turned 21 last weekend, a joyous occasion if ever there was one, full of good food, good friends, good drinks and laughter enough to fill a night to the brim. I finished the first 50 pages of my novel a few days back, signed, sealed and delivered to be edited and fixed up by a quill more dexterous and agile than my own. Im not doing too poorly in my classes though, truth be told, I could be doing better. All in all I am the very model of a modern Kenyon junior. But, no matter how hard I try, I cant stop being depressed.
Its not something I like discussing, but Im not writing this for myself. Im writing this because I wish I had read it when I was a first year. I wish someone had told me its okay not to be happy. Im too proud to ask for help, always have been, always will be. Its just who I am, but if theres even one person out there like me, thinking the same things Ive thought, feeling things similar to what I felt, this is for you. Nobody tells you that college is real life. After you graduate, nothing is easier than slathering your memories of this place with shades of pink and imbibing them straight, no chaser. Life might get harder once you leave the safety of Gambier, but it doesnt start. Its been going, and going, and going and sometimes its hard to remember that you deserve to not feel great about it. I get waves of guilt and shame about feeling bad because I feel as though Im wasting my time here. Sometimes I get stuck in bouts of existential impotence in which it all feels like a grand Sisyphusian opera of shit (put to Wagner music just to remind me how very Jewish I am). I dont want to ask for help because I dont want to admit I have a problem. I dont want to talk about it because then it becomes real. If youre anything like me, its not all the time that you feel bad, its not even every week or month, but when it comes, it comes hard and it lays you down faster than you can think of reasons not to go out on a Friday night.
I seem to have the tendency to make fresh enemies every time I string together a sentence, so why dont I make some things abundantly clear before I finish up? Im not blaming Kenyon, Im not blaming college, Im not blaming anyone at all. Im also not trying to get anyone to go to see a psychiatrist. There are many great resources available on our campus to help get you through those tough patches, but it would be immensely hypocritical for me to tell people to seek help when I dont. If I were to say anything, I would say, confide in your friends; confide in those you trust without the slightest hesitation. I know in my heart that I would have never made it this far without the support system of close friends who for some reason seem to stick with me no matter how much of an ass I can be. Also, if you want to talk to someone who understands your shit, you can always shoot me an email. I wont give you advice, for I am not and never hope to be a qualified medical professional, but Ill share my stories if you share yours.
The last thing I wanted to say, on a slightly different note, is that I take offense at the very idea that college is going to be the best years of my life. If I peak at 22, Im going to be pretty pissed off. Were all still trying to figure things out, trying to find what we believe. Another ancient Jewish tradition comes to mind, one that Ive never really thought about until now. At certain points throughout the year, we raise a glass and say as one: next year in Jerusalem. These are uniformly joyous occasions, but that statement holds a lot of weight. We may be happy now, or sad, or lonely, or whatever, but next year well be better. No matter what, next year will be better. These are not the best years of your life, and even if they are, thats no way to go about living. Next year will be.
Michael Burten 14 is a philosophy major. His email is email@example.com.