True Life: I’m a College Graduate!

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This is me, rebellious as ever.

Haven’t you heard? I’m a college graduate!

For those of you who didn’t know, I received my B.A. last week and have officially begun the newest chapter of my life as a full-time marketing professional. It feels like just yesterday I was moving into the dorms and trying to figure out who to sit next to at club meetings! These last four years have been the most challenging and rewarding years of my life so far, and I can’t believe how quickly they flew by.

Graduating from college is simultaneously exciting and scary. It’s a time of transition that leaves no room for black and white, only gray areas that cause us to question how we should act and what we should be doing in comparison to our peers. We’re technically adults, but we aren’t completely sure if we should feel that way just yet.

Change can be terrifying. It can also be incredibly rewarding. For the first time since I was five (or younger, if you count preschool), I am not enrolled in school, which means that, in a sense, a huge chunk of my identity is missing. In other words, I am about to embark on a life that won’t be measured in semesters. And yet, the changes I’m about to experience – a new job, a new apartment, a (slightly) new city – mean that I have even more room to explore my identity outside of the classroom.

I learned a lot from my college experience early on, and my goal was to share those tips with readers as often as I could over the past few years. Although college advice will continue to pop up here, you’ll notice a bit of a shift in content as I transition into the professional world and record my journey.

For those of you who have recently graduated, I wish you the best of luck in your post-collegiate plans!

How Bittersweet It Is

After two years of new friendships, developing aspirations and lessons learned, I have finally moved out of my on-campus home, the dorm room where I grew up. At 2 p.m., my room became completely devoid of any evidence that it ever belonged to me, even with the two years of history we have together, and all of its contents are now split between a storage unit and my childhood bedroom.

My parents have had the same house since I was two years old, and so moving isn’t exactly my forte. I like the consistency of the room I’ve known forever. Living in the same dorm for two years brought with it a similar familiarity, one that made the transition to college much smoother.

As I stripped my walls of all their posters, collages and bulletin boards, I realized how much of an effect a place can have on you. I thought about the ups and the downs, the friends I’d made and the people who had disappointed me, the celebrations/birthdays I’d thrown and the days I’d lay sick in bed. I thought about all the roommates I had at different times in that room (six official, but sometimes it felt like a lot more!). I thought about my freshman year especially and everything it had taught me, and one thing rang true: for better or for worse, I’m going to miss this place.

In two weeks, I will move into an apartment off campus with two of my close friends, and I am very excited to live there with them. At the same time, a small part of me is sad to leave my old room behind. The move can be such a bittersweet thing, unearthing one’s nostalgia and painful memories, but the change (while scary) can also lead to bigger, better things.

What would you miss most about your apartment or dorm room? How do you feel about the next step?

The Friday Five: Lessons Learned From The Harry Potter Series

When I was nine years old, I made the most magical discovery of my life. One day, at the elementary school book fair, I picked up my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and it immediately became my bible. Throughout the next twelve years, the series remained a staple in my world, as I attended midnight releases, enjoyed Harry Potter Weekends, visited the theme park and even organized a “Hunt for the Horcruxes” fundraising event in college.

Last night, it all ended with the second installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hitting theaters. Of course I attended the midnight showing (what self-respecting nerd wouldn’t?), and as I watched some of the flashback clips, I couldn’t help but think about how much of a profound effect the series has had on me and so many others. When I think about some of the most important things I’ve learned in life, I can’t help but think that half of them have stemmed from an Albus Dumbledore quote or an aspect of one of the seven books.

Not only has J.K. Rowling inspired me as a writer, but she has also created a powerful series of young adult novels that can teach us a lot about how to be the best we can be and strive for positive change, even in the Muggle world. This week, in honor of the final film’s release, I would like to share some of these lessons with you! (Warning: Possible spoilers up ahead!)

The Friday Five: Lessons Learned From The Harry Potter Series

1. Your choices shape the kind of person you become. — Tweet this!
It doesn’t matter how inherently good you believe you are; if your choices in life don’t reflect kindness and loyalty, then you will not be perceived as kind or loyal. It doesn’t matter how talented you are; if you don’t practice or demonstrate your skills, then you will not be perceived as talented. We are all born with some good and bad in us, but ultimately we will be judged by the actions we take and the paths we follow. This also means that we are capable of change. On Harry’s first night at Hogwarts, the Sorting Hat suggests that he would do well in Slytherin (much like Tom Riddle, the eventual Lord Voldemort), but instead, Harry chooses to divert from Voldemort’s path and become a Gryffindor instead. This simple choice alone ultimately has a major impact on the next seven years of his life.

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2. There is more to a person than meets the eye.
Everyone — whether it’s the first-string quarterback, the janitor or that weird guy who sits in the corner by himself — has a story. On a day to day basis, we usually only get a piece of that story, but we can learn a lot about a person by digging a little deeper. Throughout the first six books of the series, Potions professor Severus Snape is painted as the most miserable and biased teacher that Harry has ever seen, and he becomes one of those characters you just love to hate. I don’t want to give away the ending for those who aren’t caught up on the series, but Snape does turn out to be one of the bravest, most noble characters, with a heartbreakingly beautiful storyline. Upon first glance, a person might not seem like much, but you might find something wonderful if you look just past the surface.

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3. Your true friends will stick by you through the difficult times.
Harry Potter lives a tough life as the Chosen One; not only must he balance academics, Quidditch and attempts at finding a girlfriend, but he is constantly bombarded with a new Voldemort-centered problem that he must solve. His two major constants: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, his best friends. Whether he must destroy a Horcrux, escape a band of Death Eaters or save a hippogriff’s life, his friends are always there to help in any way that they can. In the past year especially, I have found that my truest friends have been those who stuck around not only when things were going well, but when times were rough. In other words, a true friend does not scare easily and will do his or her best to help you tackle any problem you have.

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4. There will always be injustices to fight.
Discrimination takes place no matter where in the world you go, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. In the Harry Potter books, this discrimination is seen among magical creatures, as well as by blood status (Pureblood versus Half-Blood versus Muggle-Born). Throughout the series, Harry and his friends never stop fighting for what they believe in. In your own life, when you witness some sort of prejudice that you don’t agree with (whether it is by race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status or Team Edward/Team Jacob), it is important to stand up for your beliefs and for equality.

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5. Love is more powerful than hatred.
Just as good conquers evil, so too does love usually conquer hate. In the first book, Voldemort (who has never known love and was even born out of a loveless union) is more or less destroyed by a mother’s fierce love for her son. Growing up, Harry often compares himself to Voldemort, but unlike the Dark Lord, Harry sustains strong relationships and is bound to his late parents by the love that courses through his veins. Although Voldemort has many followers, he is merely respected and feared, never loved. Ultimately, the good guys win. In real life, there is something to be said for killing your enemies with kindness. Hating someone else is completely pointless; if anything, it does you more harm than good. The concept can best be summed up by a line from a Nada Surf song: “Always love. Hate will get you every time.”

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My fondest farewells to some of the most influential books I have ever read. (More on those later!) What have you learned from the series?

Following Your Heart And Finding Your Backbone

“See, now that’s your problem. You’re wishin’ too much, baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

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As children, we were always taught that we had the power to make our dreams come true. The possibilities were limitless — as long as we wanted something badly enough, put in some effort and had a little faith, we would undoubtedly be able to obtain it. Our desires were merely a four -leaf clover, a penny in a fountain,  a wish upon a star away.

Innocent young creatures as we were, we felt entitled to our dreams. And why shouldn’t we? After all, we were nice enough to the other kids, did our best to behave and sometimes even ate our vegetables. Sprinkle on a little fairy dust and we were well on our way to accomplishing our goals.

Of course, as silly as this sounds, some of us have carried this philosophy into our adolescence and adult lives. Logically we know that no fairy godmother is about to wave her magic wand over us and make all of our hopes and dreams become a reality, and yet we still wind up waiting around for our lives to happen to us. We let our emotions get the best of us and meanwhile hope that the answers and solutions to our problems will find their way into our lives and work themselves out.

Sometimes, when we want something badly, we don’t think about it in the most rational way. Although I consider myself extremely goal-oriented and I have worked hard to achieve what I have, I will admit that I also have my struggles in certain areas, and that I have goals that I’ve been working on for years with no luck. This can get even a fairly optimistic person like me down. Such failed attempts at any task might make me and anyone else think, Oh, how unfair life is. Then, we blame our circumstances and wonder if our dreams will ever become our realities.

As I was reading Eat Pray Love this week (just finished today!), the above quote really struck a chord with me. Too many of us simply wish for things as if wishing is all we need to do, but then we forget to wish with our backbones, or really stand up for ourselves and do what needs to be done, as hard as that might be. Sometimes, we need to look within ourselves and find a strength we were lacking before, one that will guide us toward achieving our toughest goals and improving upon our weaknesses.

At the end of the memoir, author Elizabeth Gilbert wraps up her year of travels by discussing how she ended up with such a peaceful and happy new life. Now involved with a Brazilian ex-patriate who pledges his love to her, Gilbert writes, “I am happy and balanced. And yes, I cannot help but notice that I am sailing to this pretty little tropical island with my Brazilian lover. Which is — I admit it! — an almost ludicrous fairy-tale ending to this story, like the page out of some housewife’s dream… Yet what keeps me from dissolving right now into a complete fairy-tale shimmer is this solid truth, a truth which has veritably built my bones over the last few years — I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue.”

Too often we expect others to come to our rescue, or for timing to work itself out, or for all of our annoying little setbacks to disappear, but the truth remains that in order for us to see any real improvement in our lives, we have to slay our own dragons. A little help every so often is certainly appreciated from the ones we love and admire, but we have to rely fully on ourselves if we want to experience positive change. We can only live out our fairy tale endings if we muster the courage (find our backbone) to do something about them.

The Freshman 15: Ways To Prepare For Orientation

I remember it like it was just yesterday. Almost exactly two years ago, I drove three hours away from home to attend Freshman Orientation at the college of my dreams. At first, I wasn’t all that excited to be there — my high school friends were having a party at home that I would have rather been attending, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t meet anyone within the two days of speakers, schedule planning and campus tours. As it turned out, I met two of my closest friends at orientation, and I hardly kept in touch with anyone at that high school party. Orientation was what ultimately got me excited about going to college, and I couldn’t wait to move into the dorms and start hanging out with my new friends.

Above all else, Freshman Orientation was what really prepared me for a successful first year of college. Although orientations may differ greatly by school, they can serve as a great tool for getting to know your campus and making new friends. As a peer ambassador for my university this year, I had the opportunity to assist students in the honors college at their orientation, and so I picked up a few tips along the way. Incoming freshmen, keep these tips in mind as you prepare for orientation this summer!  — Tweet this!

The Freshman 15: Ways To Prepare For Orientation

1. Get excited.
First of all, you’re going to college, which is an accomplishment all on its own. Second of all, you are about to embark on a new chapter of your life. Look at either of those facts alone and you have all the more reason to be excited. Now is the time to stop worrying about the schools you aren’t attending, and start thinking about all the amazing opportunities you are going to have. A little bit of enthusiasm at orientation goes a long way — no one wants to talk to the awkward guy who is constantly rolling his eyes or brooding in the corner.

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2. Be open to making new friends.
While it’s true that you may never see some of the people you meet at orientation again in the next four years, you should still make your best effort to meet new people. You never know, you could wind up meeting your best friend! For tips on how to make a good impression, click here.

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3. Take your placement exams before you get there.
Chances are, you’ll need to take some exams so that the school can decide what math and chemistry courses you’re ready for. If you haven’t taken your exams before orientation, a lot of schools won’t let you sign up for certain classes. Because everyone is trying to create their perfect schedules, it is important that you have met all your requirements before attending orientation so that you aren’t fighting someone a few weeks later for the last spot in a class.

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4. Ask questions.
One great thing about orientation is that it gives you a wider set of resources throughout the school. Not only do you learn about the various academic and wellness services that your school provides, but you also usually meet older students who have been through it all and can serve as a mentor for you. This is especially helpful if you don’t have an older sibling who goes to the school and knows a lot about it. No question is really off limits — they get asked pretty much everything, and because everyone else will be in the same boat as you, you probably aren’t the only person who is wondering.

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5. Distance yourself from your parents.
This doesn’t mean to disregard them completely, of course. Your family probably plays a significant role in your life, and they will continue to do so in the future. However, orientation is not the time to latch on. Most orientations do separate the families from their students, and this gives you the chance to choose your classes on your own (without parental pressure!) and prepare yourself for the not-so-distant day when you aren’t living under your parents’ roof. Even if you are staying with your family when you attend college, you will still want your independence. Fill your parents in on what you’ve been doing at orientation, but make sure they give you your space.

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6. Be prepared for the weather.
As a student in Florida, I may be a little biased, but because most orientations take place in the summertime, you never know if you’re going to have rain or shine. Weather.com isn’t always accurate, so make sure you have an umbrella on hand just in case. From personal experience, I have found that it seems to rain specifically on orientation days. Such is the life of a college student.

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7. Connect with your roommates.
Even if you have already found your roommates on Facebook, you may not have met them in person yet. Although there are most likely several orientation dates, you should find out if your roommates will be attending yours, and try to meet up with them at some point. It isn’t the end of the world if you aren’t able to see each other then, but if you can, by all means go for it. This should help alleviate some of the awkward “breaking the ice” when you meet again at move-in.

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8. Join in the festivities.
Yes, orientation is probably going to be long and tiring, but it is important to make the most of it and take advantage of new things. If there is an ice cream social at the end of the day, go and meet people. If the orientation leaders are dancing on stage during dinner and they ask students to join them, do it (or was that just at my orientation?). Try to be upbeat and energetic.

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9. Look at your general education requirements ahead of time.
As a freshman, your first order of business when planning your schedule will be to get some of your general education requirements out of the way. If you have access to a course catalog or the academics portion of your school’s website, look over some of these requirements and think about what sparks your interest. Advisers will be on the scene to help you craft your schedule, but it is a good idea to know what general classes are required and sound appealing to you.

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10. Find out about available clubs on campus.
Want to rush a fraternity or sorority? Find someone who’s an expert on Greek life. Want to find out if there’s a Quidditch club at your school? Talk to some of the people in charge of student involvement. At many schools, the different organizations will actually attend orientation to answer questions for incoming freshmen and recruit them for future meetings. I always stress the importance of getting involved early on. Why not do this at your orientation?

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11. Stay organized.
You will receive countless handouts, fliers, booklets and school paraphernalia while attending your orientation, so bring a folder or backpack so you don’t lose any of them. I found myself constantly flipping back and forth between papers at my orientation because of the sheer number of them — half the time, I didn’t know where to find what I needed! Keep everything together as neatly as possible so you can refer back to specific items later if you need to.

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12. Take advantage of social media.
Hopefully, you will meet a lot of new people at your freshman orientation. Although Facebook isn’t always the best means of communication, it is definitely a good way to group new people together and write quick messages back and forth. Exchange numbers with the people you meet, if you’re comfortable with that, but adding them on Facebook could be slightly less intimidating for the shy student, and allows you an instantaneous means of keeping in touch. When you return to school in the fall, it may be easier to reconnect with those people you met at orientation.

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13. Take notes if you need to.
After receiving countless tidbits of knowledge about your school for an entire two days, things can get pretty confusing. Instead of letting the information get completely lost in translation, write down the important things so you can remember them later.

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14. Be as flexible as possible.
When planning out your class schedule, things might not come out 100% as you may have hoped. This is okay — you have four years of college ahead of you, so you don’t need to rush your way through. Orientation may bring shocking changes to others. For example, the actuarial science majors at my orientation (including two of my friends) were informed on the first day that their program had just been cut and that they would have to pursue new degree programs. Although they were not happy about this at the time, they have thrived in their new majors and since cultivated new interests. Your mind may change, as well, and you may decide to change your major on the spot. Change can be wonderful because it allows us to grow as people and learn something new about ourselves. Keep an open mind.

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15. Have a sense of humor.
There’s usually at least one corny aspect of Freshman Orientation — a speaker who makes too many bad puns, an outdated video of campus life, a few dance routines sprinkled here and there — so it’s important to try and have a good time. Be engaged in what you are doing, but don’t let yourself become too pretentious as you go through the various presentations at orientation. Have fun!

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Questions for readers:
– What was your freshman orientation like?
– What did you learn from orientation or wish you had done differently?
– What topics would you like to read about in future Freshman 15 articles? 

What’s In A Name?

When I was a sophomore in high school, one of the final assignments in my intro to journalism class was to write an article about the origins of our names. In my “research” for this article (if you could even call it that), I interviewed several people, including my parents and friends, to discuss the literal meanings of my name and whether or not they were fitting. At one point, when I asked a classmate I had known since fifth grade to describe me in one word, his exact words were, “You’re just… Val.” Based on his answer, I fit my name well — at least the shortened version of it, anyway.

Of course, some people call me Valerie (my full name), but if I really wanted to, I could have pursued other options as well. I could go by my first and middle name instead, or just by my middle or last name (or a variation of my last name). At different times, I’ve had friends who called me Vallie or V, and I’ve even heard of girls named Valerie who shortened their names to Ri. Ultimately, I wonder what makes us choose the names we go by, and how our various nicknames might characterize us differently.

In Sarah Dessen’s latest novel What Happened To Goodbye, the main character’s entire identity seems to change based on what name she chooses to go by. Mclean Elizabeth Sweets was known as Mclean her entire life, until her parents’ divorce that led to her attending four different schools in the next two years. At the first new school, she was the popular Eliza (a variation of her middle name); next, she was the artistic Lizbit; then, she became Beth, the extremely involved yearbook student. This allows her to get close to others without really revealing much of herself, and makes it easier for her to leave a school and group of friends behind.

In high school and college, we desperately search for some semblance of identity, even if it isn’t necessary our own. We struggle with this, and rightfully so — in fact, according to Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, we face the crisis of identity vs. role confusion around this time in our lives. Some of us combat this by morphing into our friends and idols (I’ve known girls who switched from Southern belle to only-listens-to-rap to hipster within a year or so based on the circles of people they ran with), while others tried to find themselves alone.

Ultimately, while I see the appeal in Mclean’s actions (new identities means new opportunities, and not getting close to anyone means not getting hurt), I don’t think that changing your name or anything else exterior can really hide who you are inside. You may have traded in your cheerleading skirts for skinny jeans and flannel shirts, or grown a mountain man beard, or changed your name from Elizabeth to Lizzie, but you can’t as easily hide the fact that you bite your lip when you’re nervous, you have a sarcastic sense of humor and you are fiercely loyal to your friends. Your name might define you in some way (Valerie means “strong” in Latin, and I would like to think that I’ve remained strong in the face of my challenges), but when it all boils down to it, you are who you are and it doesn’t matter how you label that.

The Friday Five: What I’ve Learned From Blogging

On most days, I don’t write anything specific about my personal life, but today is a notable exception. Today marks a very special one-year anniversary for me — in fact, exactly one year ago, I registered for an account on WordPress and started blogging right here. 365 days and 96 posts later, I have loved every minute of the blogging experience, and have grown tremendously since the very first post I ever wrote on WordPress.

To commemorate this occasion, I would like to share some of what I’ve learned in the past year of blogging. Feel free to comment below with some of what you’ve learned as well!

The Friday Five: What I’ve Learned From Blogging

1. You never know who is reading.
It doesn’t matter who your target audience is… you will still attract readers from other groups as well. Yes, most of my readers are college students, but I have also heard from various family members and employers who have read it as well. My readers come from all over the world and it is amazing to hear from so many perspectives when reading through comments. Blogging has allowed me to learn more about others, but it has also taught me the importance of inclusivity and not alienating any potential readers.

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2. Blogging means community.
Throughout my blogging experience, I have found that it is extremely important to keep up with other blogs in order to stay fresh and informed. In doing this, I’ve been able to meet and interact with a variety of bloggers, forming somewhat of a community through WordPress, Twitter and other social media. As a blogger, I have become acquainted with such a variety of writers, and in turn, have introduced some of my IRL friends to the world of blogging.

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3. There’s a Taylor Swift song for everything.
I used to make fun of a lot of Taylor Swift songs for their subject matter (“I like this boy but he doesn’t know I exist” “I’m in a relationship and it’s the best thing ever” “I wear a lot of dresses”) but with the release of her album Speak Now, I realized that I could relate to more of her songs than I thought. With nearly 10 percent of my blog posts pertaining to something written by T. Swift, I can’t simply disregard the fact that there will always be an artist whose work speaks to you. For the past year of my life, Taylor Swift’s music has spoken to me, and it will be interesting to see who and what I draw inspiration from in the next year.

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4. Making connections is one of the most important things you can do.
In English classes, we are taught to look for specific literary devices that don’t mean much to us personally, but as a blogger, I’ve definitely been able to pick out more prominent themes in famous works and apply them to my own life. Whether an excerpt from a novel, a scene from a movie or a line from a song, these various pieces can shed some insight on our own life experiences and observations, and help to point out a more universal truth. Blogging has taught me the power of making such connections and also enhanced my overall enjoyment of the works I read, watch and listen to.

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5. You are bound to contradict yourself.
In time, as you learn and grow from every experience, you will find that sometimes your thoughts, feelings and opinions will change. Because of this, some of your blogs might seem to contradict one another, and that’s okay. A blog doesn’t have to be perfectly static — it can change over time, just as you will. Realize that what you find in the next year may surprise you, and embrace the contradictions that you face.

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To my readers: Thank you for such a wonderful first full year of blogging. You have all been such an inspiration to me and I could not have done it without your support.

To my fellow bloggers: What have you learned from your experiences in blogging?

Innocence Versus Hope

“Thank you, Little Queen. Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.” – Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

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After finally finishing The Joy Luck Club (which readers will know I have been working on for a while, as evidenced by my posts here and here), I found that I related to the novel on many levels, one of which I actually noticed in between chapters. At the start of each section of the book, Amy Tan includes little italicized anecdotes that provide insight into the section itself. Her last section, “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” begins with the vignette of a grandmother and her infant grandchild. The grandmother observes the baby and speaks to her, admiring her laughter and reflecting upon her own life experiences.

The grandmother longs for the days when she was “once so free and innocent.” However, after becoming more exposed to the hardships of life, the grandmother becomes hardened by these experiences, and then teaches her daughter to “shed her innocence so she would not be hurt as well.”

Ultimately, the grandmother discusses the happy medium of “how to lose your innocence but not your hope,” and after reading this passage, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the answer we’ve all been looking for. As we grow up, we find that our lives don’t always turn out as expected, and that people can disappoint us in more ways than one. After a certain number of disappointments, we begin to regret ever trusting in those people and situations we had always counted on, and may start to become cynical. We might not let ourselves get as excited as we would normally want to be, because there is always that nagging voice in the back of our heads, telling us that things might not work out. The internship interview we just completed? Yeah, it went well, but there’s certainly a chance that we screwed up that last question or that someone else had a prettier resume. The boy in sociology class who seems interested? Sure, things seem promising, but he probably only likes sorority girls, anyway. We create our protective barriers because we can’t stand the idea of getting hurt, especially in a world that is completely chaotic and unpredictable.

After two years in college, I have definitely learned a lot about how much I can trust in others, and when I need to be wary around new people and situations. This is important, because it keeps me from repeating the same mistakes and allows me to learn something new every day. However, this loss of “innocence” does not mean I have to be completely negative any time an exciting new opportunity arises; I can still keep my “hope.” I have learned that to have hope in all situations is not a naive trait, but rather a characteristic that keeps us young and vibrant.

In other words, while it is important to have some protective barriers in order to keep out some of the bad, it is equally important to allow in the good as well. We can learn from every experience, regardless of its outcome, and being hopeful can help us get through some of the more difficult ones.

The Story Of Us: Just Another Transition

While listening to Taylor Swift’s more recent single The Story of Us, I couldn’t help but think about how relationships (whether platonic or romantic) tend to come in stages. In the song, Swift sings about a once-iconic relationship that ended badly. She begins with the idea that the “story of us” is this effortless love story that she and her boyfriend will be telling their grandchildren, but then reveals that she and the former love of her life are no longer on good terms. Soon, that “story of us” becomes the story of how “I was losing my mind when I saw you here,” not about how sparks flew when they first met.

The lyrics and theme of The Story of Us reminded me that our relationships are constantly in a state of transition, and so are the stories we tell about the people in our lives. The guy you met in your bio class and instantly connected with might soon become the guy who took you on the perfect date, then the boyfriend everyone envies you for having, then the boyfriend who cheated on you with that girl down the hall, and finally the ex you run into on a plane and hardly speak to. All relationships begin and end differently, but most of them will have their beginnings and endings, and your perspective will certainly differ depending on the point you are at in that relationship.

It is important to accept that things are always going to change in some way. (Tweet this!) Even if you do find the love of your life, chances are your relationship will hit some bumps or adapt to the way you start to grow up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Everything in your life can become a learning experience, a story you share with your friends and your children in the years to come, even if the story manifests itself differently at different points in your life. One day, your life might feel like a bad teen soap opera; the next, like a page out of an introspective Sarah Dessen novel; and maybe even one day like a really poignant memoir that gets all the glowing reviews.

“The story of us” could be, as T. Swift puts it, a “tragedy.” It could also turn into a comedy a few months or years down the line, when we finally start to ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” Maybe the lessons learned in one relationship will help us recognize when we’ve actually found our perfect match in another, and will lead us to that happily ever after. Or maybe what we take away from a failed relationship will lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves.

Bottom line: Change can be good. Without it, we wouldn’t survive. The stories we tell about our life experiences will constantly be in a state of transition, because we ourselves are in that same state of transition, and we have to be prepared for the curveballs life will throw at us. Taylor Swift’s love story with so-and-so might be over, but that doesn’t mean that you have to look at your own ended relationships as tragedies. Look at them as transitions, and embrace the change as the catalyst that will lead to better things.

As We Mature, So Do Our Friendships

With the first half of my college career officially over, I’ve already started to get nostalgic. Not only is my sister about to graduate high school and embark on her freshman year, but I will also be assisting at freshman orientation next month. As our group begins to train for the big day, I can’t help but think back two years to my own freshman orientation, where I fell in love with my school and met some of the people who shaped my first two years (for better and for worse).

It’s crazy to think about how much has changed since then. I’m no longer the terrified 18-year-old who dreaded enrolling in college as a Journalism major. Nor am I the girl who avoids the organized socials at all costs. I remember wanting to skip the pool and pizza party that the school put together the night before orientation because I resented not being able to attend a high school friend’s party instead. Ironically enough, I’ve probably only kept in touch with one person who actually attended that party — and now I’m the one hosting parties and events.

Of course, I still have a few close friends from high school (with whom I try very hard to maintain our long-distance friendships!), but the vast majority of my friends these days are people I met in college. I go to a state university, so obviously a lot of people from my high school are enrolled here too, but I don’t mingle with many of them anymore. It’s nothing against them, but I can’t stress enough that a lot of high school relationships are based on convenience — you might not have much in common, but you live somewhat close and sometimes that’s enough. At the university level, you tend to find more people who like the same things you, appreciate your sense of humor and bring their own unique perspectives to the table. Even at the honors freshman orientation, I found that I clicked a lot better with people there than I did with the “AP” crowd in high school.

Overall, I can’t get over just how strong most of my college friendships have been. In high school, a good friend was usually someone you sat with at lunch every day, hung out with on weekends and confided in about the guys you liked. In college, the friendships tend to mature– you find the friends who will drive you to the health center and hospital for your medical emergencies and spend the night making sure you’re okay, the friends who sit up all night with you after you get your heart broken (when they would rather be studying), the friends who will rescue you when you need them most. Some of the situations might be more serious now, but we seem better equipped to help each other out with them. Perhaps because we are all going through them, we are more willing to go to great lengths to support our friends.

I’m not saying that everyone you meet in college is going to be your best friend, or that everyone you knew in high school was a terrible friend, either. However, I do think that as we mature, so do our friendships, and those people we connect with at college can become some of the best friends we have ever had.