The Grab Bag of Experiences We Call College

Opinion Editor Khalil Gordon explores the transitional phase from High School to college and how much of an opportunity for growth…or regression it can be. “It’s rewarding to see these [old friends] who were so — in the most polite possible way — socially inept, grow into more confidence and empathetic people.”

Gordon and housemate Alex Sidare on a hike at Letchworth state park — not pictured are Karen Jesch and Will Vega (Khalil Gordon)

It is my honest belief that the transition from the high school environment to college is one of the most significant periods of growth a person can go through. It may seem like a no brainer, but I still think it’s worth noting. A lot of people spend most of their K-12 career among the same group of people. 

Oftentimes, they end up falling into roles early that end up following them all the way to high school graduation. The belief that you are, and can only ever be, the same thing you’ve been since you were 14 is stifling. You’re never challenged to grow in an environment like this, and it is only in the transition to college that you lose all the preconceptions people have placed on you.

The exposure to new people and new scenarios often leads us to reflect on our beliefs, our attitudes and our expectations for life in a meaningful way: a way that helps mold us into functional members of society, or at the very least into better people than we were before. Unfortunately, this is only the ideal scenario and I don’t think it is truly reflective of the wider field of human experience. 

While, yes, many people are forced to adjust to their new environment, many end up falling into the same or similar roles to what they had previously. And in the worst case scenario, a not insignificant amount of people end up becoming worse. 

I have a lot of friends from high school who have had the former experience. There is a very tangible difference in demeanor between my friends who moved away from college and those who attended local colleges together. 

Over holidays when I am home, I often hang out with my friends, and it’s nice to relive some of the experiences you were fond of when you were younger. It’s comfortable, and for me at least it’s reliable; but at the same time it’s sad to see such potential for growth wasted. What’s even worse is the feeling that to at least some extent, you’ve actually grown away from those behaviors and actually find yourself drifting away from your friends more so than you enjoy being around them. I suppose the silver lining there is that they can at least serve as a benchmark for where you’re coming from as opposed to where you are now. 

As I stated, I also have friends who, like me, moved away for college, and the differences in who they were compared to who they are now is like night and day. It’s rewarding to see these people who were so — in the most polite possible way — socially inept, grow into more confidence and empathetic people. And while that also led to its own fair share of severed relationships, knowing we mutually grew apart is less painful than knowing it was a one-sided change. 

Admittedly, the claim that some people got worse in college is a bit of a stretch: it’s not as if I know what everyone I meet was like in high school. On principle, I try not to hold the attitudes of my peers against them too much. In a lot of ways we are still growing, and there is still more than enough time for them to change their ways. What I do believe, however, is that if someone refuses to abandon their harmful behaviors, it makes them a worse person than they were coming in.

I’ve met some pretty horrid personalities each successive year of my three at Canisius. I was fortunate enough in my freshman year to have a friend who pointed out to me a lot of red flags when it came to certain people, an act that helped me avoid a lot of emotional turmoil that many of my other friends had to endure. Since then, due to that person and my own upbringing, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid a lot of instances of manipulation and gaslighting. The tragic thing is that I know that many others don’t share this degree of insight. While I’ve seen people develop it after repeated exposure to unfortunate situations, not a lot of people come into college expecting to go through all that. 

For as much as I’d like to list off as many warning signs as I can when it comes to avoiding emotional abuse, every instance is different. I can only honestly speak on behalf of what it is that I’ve seen and go from there. 

I think the most important thing to be aware of is that you are one of many people, all of whom have lives that are just as valuable as yours and conversely your life is just as valuable as theirs. You are never, under any circumstance, required to devote large amounts of your life to appease someone else, nor are others obligated to do the same for you. If you’re reading this, I encourage you now to take a step back and reflect on whether or not either position is applicable to a relationship in your life now. 

I suppose it may be worthwhile for me to cite at least a few of the instances I’ve seen happen, and do take this next part with a grain of salt — I’m not a psych major. 

It is always important to be aware of people trying to capitalize on your emotions, whether it be a partner or other party in your life. If you have gone through a period of distress and someone helped you through it, you don’t really owe them anything more than your thanks. You are not indebted to them, and if they try to make you feel as if you are, then that is a massive red flag. 

Similarly, if there seems to be a person in your life who seeks to make and keep you distressed, that is also unlikely to be a fruitful relationship. Last but not least, a person who gets distressed when you try to lead a life independent of them is also a red flag. This one I feel is the hardest one to navigate, because in truly manipulative situations, the person may often threaten to worsen their situation if you don’t tend to them. 

In this case I think it’s important to remember that you are not responsible for their well-being — it may be difficult, but in their case you can notify an authority of your concern for them and distance yourself from there. 

Identifying negative people in your life is admittedly really difficult, and oftentimes it is even harder to remove yourself from that space. But you should always try. If you don’t, you are simply denying yourself a chance to develop is space that is actually uplifting instead of suffocating. We don’t come to school to end up worse, and the idea that some people see it fit to drag others down is truly sickening. 

But at the end of the day, people are people I suppose: there are going to be ones who act well, and ones who act poorly, and sometimes it’s easy to get them confused. I think what my point is is that if you ever find yourself in an environment where you don’t feel like you’re able to be your best self, it’s probably not the right one for you.

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