I had a meltdown before my second final in college.
The night before, I kindly told my next-door neighbors to turn down their music and my suitemate to lower her voice in the common room. Yet I still couldn’t get good enough sleep thanks to my nerves: drenched with sweat and tossing throughout the night, thinking about impending finals.
I had made it through my first final relatively unscathed, but in the two hours before my second final on the same day, I panicked. There was so much info I still needed to process. On the walk over to the auditorium, I called my mom. I started breathing hard and couldn’t see straight. I was hyper-aware of the fact that I wasn’t as smart or as eloquent as my classmates, who could identify a quote within seconds and then give ten minutes worth of context. I told her about students who prepared 100-page study guides whereas mine were barely ten (and handwritten, too).
Mom was in the middle of cell group—so she quickly prayed for me and hung up. I was on my own, with three pens and a semester’s worth of highly diluted knowledge lurking somewhere in my brain. The clock struck 2pm, and three hours and two blue books later I exited feeling like I had walked into a wall. This deadening feeling repeated itself three more times, intensifying with every final: It felt like I had been hit by a Smart car, then a Ford pick-up truck, and finally, a bullet train.
It’s easy to remember college as that: mind-numbing studying and midterms and studying and finals and the anxiety when grades come out. But a week before finals, in the span of three days, I baked cookies, met Vision at a wildly fun concert, had dimsum and ramen, enjoyed an impromptu suitemate nail salon, watched a comedy show, partook in the First Year Snowball Fight, had a hot chocolate late-night mini-dance party, bonded at a club turnover dinner, and watched Lady Bird.
And that was just one weekend.
College is all of that and more. It’s shifting and shaping your heart to find a home within new walls. It’s learning routes through courtyards until your feet have gained muscle memory, and it’s the thrill of finding shortcuts. It’s recognizing how easy it is to stop caring for your mental, spiritual, and physical health, and realizing how hard it is to care for yourself, let alone your newfound friends. It’s embracing the frantic juggling and still finding time to breathe, recuperate. It’s Lady Bird realizing, as Variety puts it, not just that her hometown is her most beloved place, “but that the life she’s been desperately longing for is the one that she’s been living.” It’s apprehension and excitement and heartache and hope all at once in a soul that is like the ocean: mercurial, unsure, beautiful.
I wish coming out of high school I had been told a little more explicitly about the ups and downs of college. That despite the reduced class time you’ll spend even more time studying, that despite appearances your classmates don’t have everything together, that despite the hustle you’ll still have an uncomfortable amount of time to reflect on who you are and decide on who you want to be. That it takes a little more time than one movie to become lifelong friends with each other. That there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. That sleep is a top priority. That even though it is tempting to dwell in the past or future, you must treasure the present, because it is so fleeting.
The present is always the most painful. The past is looking back on sepia-filtered vignettes, like the beautifully edited and colored montages in Lady Bird. The comfort and the melancholy of it all lies in the fact that one day, the present—college—will be the past. Before we know it, college will simply be clips strung together of happy and sad, but mostly happy, moments:
Lights, camera, action on the late-night muffled laughter in the hallway, the adventures to find free food across campus, the catching snowflakes on our tongues. Zoom in on a girl who is grappling with the fact that the present passes by too slow and too fast at the same time. She’s a little bit nervous about second semester, but that’s okay. The uncertainty is what makes it worth living: a spontaneous life where her every step is as light as birds taking flight.
PS. Watching Lady Bird right now as I had literally lived her life as a senior applying for college, navigating friendships old and new, and leaving family in California to go to the East Coast–suffice to say it hit very, very close to home. Especially the leaving part.
PPS. Lady Bird totally would have gotten into Yale. She seems like more of a New Haven girl than a New York City girl.