When I tell upperclassmen about my distress at the fact that freshman year has flown by so quickly, they remind me that I shouldn’t be complaining. And that’s true: we freshmen do still have the majority of college life ahead of us. But this doesn’t change the fact that something will be ending when we move out of our first dorm rooms in a few weeks. Freshman year is a unique experience, and with its end passes a significant point on the trajectory of our college lives. Ready or not, in just a few months we will be thrust into the more familiar but still distinct journey of sophomore year.
Auden writes in “As I Walked Out One Evening ”: “O let not Time deceive you, You cannot conquer Time.” As I read this poem for the first time a few years ago, it seemed to me that Auden was voicing a reality that I had long experienced. When I was little, I used to try to stare at the clock during the last days of summer, hoping that by focusing on each minute I could somehow manipulate time into slowing down. As I got older, I realized that time was, in fact, unconquerable. After each experience ended and gave way to a different one, I could not believe that it had come and gone so soon. The only part of life that wasn’t continuously becoming new, it seemed, was newness itself.
As my freshman year winds down, I catch myself expressing yet another lament at time’s quick passage. For some reason, the speed with which freshman year has passed is more disconcerting to me than the equally quick passage of past experiences. Looking back to my first day on campus at the end of August, I see now just how many expectations and hopes I had brought with me. I arrived knowing that I was about to enter an important new stage of life; I wasn’t sure exactly what it would look like, but I knew that its significance would likely stay with me for years to come. On that first day, I saw this same excitement in the faces of all of my classmates who weren’t yet friends: we all seemed to understand that we were beginning a new life together as a community. We were about to introduce ourselves to the place where we would hopefully expand our knowledge, discover passions, and have experiences that might alter us in profound ways. We didn’t know exactly where we were going, but we knew that we were starting something.
When we get back to campus next fall, this will all be different. We will arrive not as visitors, but as residents. We will not appear wide-eyed at the magical possibilities of college life. What was once the exciting unknown will be the familiar. This shift might lead us to a moment of confusion. We are no longer starting something; now we are in the midst of it. The middle can feel meaningless at times; we are not right at the start of a fresh experience, but we are not yet close to leaving it either. We might be tempted to ask ourselves: what happens now?
But it seems that while sophomore year is a different experience from freshman year, it is also an equally important one. The beginning of something is always exciting, but there is a different kind of excitement that comes from the familiar. We have truly gotten to know our school over the past eight months, from the qualities that were exactly as we had expected to those that took us by surprise. We have exchanged fantasy for real life experiences. We will arrive back on campus with knowledge based on experience: knowledge of what we hope to achieve, what we might choose to do differently, and which parts of our freshman year experience we hope to preserve. We will be able to start the year feeling truly at home, and there is something wonderful about that kind of intimacy.
Time does pass, and new experiences will always replace the old ones. Freshman year was an incredible whirlwind of an experience, and before we know it we will be moving on. But there’s truth to the cliché that with each end comes a beginning, and so instead of staring at the clock I plan to embrace the speed of college life. Because whether we feel prepared or not, the next experience will be upon us in what feels like an instant and what we’ll have left are the memories to look back on. That’s the silver lining of the quick passage of time: it reminds us of how fleeting, and therefore how precious, each moment is. Auden was right: we cannot conquer time. But we can enjoy it and try to make of it something lasting, and that’s an extraordinary task.
Fattal is a member of the class of 2017.