Four years ago, I showed up at this massive, foreign campus with the understanding that this was to be my home for the next long while. It didn’t look anything like I expected, with its blocky, grey buildings occasionally covered in bad graffiti and the endless multitude of posters discussing the possibility of rape. It looked like something from a dystopian novel – big, looming, threatening, empty at the time, and I didn’t think that I was going to make it. I thought, for sure, something was going happen before I graduated.

A few of my friends from high school dropped out along the way, and I figured it was just a matter of time before I did. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready for this. This was too daunting, too much, and staying here would kill me. Oddly enough, the only thing that pushed out all thought of dropping out was an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I watched around the same time, wherein Buffy struggles to adapt to post-secondary life in much the same way I did. I saw myself in her then, and I decided that if Buffy could stick to it (later seasons notwithstanding) then I could too.

The next four years were strange and difficult, to say the least.

After my first year, I realized that I had both anxiety and depression. My first year was characterized by emptiness, nothingness, simply getting from day to day and passing all my classes but not really doing much else.

After my second year, I hesitantly began to hope that things might get a bit better. I still hadn’t made any friends at university, but I hung out with a few of my friends from high school from time to time, and though they didn’t know it, they taught me a few things about myself. They taught me that I spend a lot of time trying to please other people. They taught me that I’ve been maintaining this ideal of what my life should be – that I should be partying, sleeping around, getting drunk, behaving (the way I saw it) like a normal twenty year old. But none of that was ever me. It made me feel uncomfortable, unhappy. It was a role that I was trying to force myself into, and I just couldn’t do it. I needed to start putting my happiness above that image.

After my third year, I came to the conclusion that I needed to put my past behind me and start focusing on my future. I’ve always prided myself on my ambition, but it’s hard to climb upward when you have all of these insecurities, doubts, anger, and fear from yesterday weighing you down. So I decided that what I needed to do was cast that off. I needed to be a little bit selfish, I needed to focus on myself. I needed to actually start making my life better.

And now here I am, almost finished my fourth year. Almost at that graduation that I never saw in my future, and I only made it here by being so preoccupied by what I needed to learn that I didn’t even really see how far I’ve come.

In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve learned that there is no ‘normal’. I’ve learned that just because society says that I need to do something, like, say, drink and party, that doesn’t actually mean I need to do it. Normal is a pointless standard, especially when the alternative choice is happiness.

In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve learned that life is occasionally going to be terrible and difficult to get through, but that doesn’t mean that you just stop trudging through it. Even when you’re just getting by, just doing the little that you need to in order to survive, someday that’ll change, and you’ll start doing things because you actually enjoy them again. It just takes time.

Hell, in the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve even learned to love it here. I love my classes. I love the reading and the lectures and my peers who usually have some pretty insightful things to say. I love these blocky, grey buildings with their bad graffiti because, for one reason or another, I’ve always been drawn to broken things. I love those posters warning against rape because now they’re less of a threat and more of a call to action, an attempt to make people realize how prevalent rape is in university campuses and how we all need to do our part to make that stop.

In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve started to identify loudly and proudly as a feminist, not caring what anyone has to say against that. In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve gained an appreciation for Victorian literature and medieval Arthuriana, while still maintaining my old love for comic books and bad movies. In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve learned that just because someone is older than you and paid to know more, that doesn’t actually mean that they do. I’ve learned to question, to think, to empathize. I’ve learned a lot, and as much as I never thought that I’d say this when I first showed up on this dystopian campus four years ago, I’m really going to miss this place.

But even so, I still have so much to learn. I’m not a perfect person, not even after four years of post-secondary. There are lessons I’m trying to teach myself even now, and lessons that I’m sure I’ll stumble upon in the next, unknown chapter of my life. And I can’t wait to find out what those are.

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