You Only Have One First Day of College

honors rachel head

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

You only have a a first day of college once in your life. So here we go, Class of 2016—we are going to rock it. Baste ourselves with it. We are young and full of life and wonder and more than a nebulous fear of the future. We are…freshmen.

Now that I have packed all the scattered remnants of my life into shoeboxes, that weird feeling has descended in which you realize you are unsure of exactly what color you like or when the last time you looked in the mirror was. I have weathered through high school and now all these cardboard boxes beg the question:

Why am I here?

In a day when a college education is increasingly becoming an investment with diminishing returns, when most of the college graduates on my street are living at home, struggling to find a job despite the four years of hefty tuition they have just broken their backs to pay, it is not an empty question.

I’ll admit part of it is the life of luxury. It’s being able to ask for help and having a dozen people there to answer you. It’s not having to cook your own meals. It’s devoting four precious years to indulging in the wanton pursuit of thoughts. Thoughts and ideas and facts and (what the hell, why not? Let’s go as cliché as it gets.)…truth. What could be better than that?

I firmly believe I stand on the doorstep of what will be the best four years of my life.

I come here to learn how to change the world. I come here to laugh so hard, I cannot tell which way up is, cry so hard I can’t catch my breath, walk home to Mary Lyon singing at the top of my lungs. I come here to be around people who follow symphony orchestras like baseball teams, who cringe at misplaced modifiers, and organize giant pterodactyl hunts every October. From what I hear, I will not be disappointed.

It is easy to cut our tongues on tough platitudes, but we all came here in search of something real. I guess at this level, it’s not just about fun anymore, it’s time to get serious. Those halcyon days are over, and real life has to start somewhere. That’s one thing weird about college. I want to stay a kid forever, and apparently college is supposed to chew me up and spit out some baby-fat-less, diploma-toting responsible adult. What is that?

This year I will vote in my first presidential election, write my first college essay, live with my first college roommate. I am going to feel exhaustion more wrenching than anything I have felt before. I am going to write about all the philosophies and conspiracy theories I believe. Starting now. Here are a few things I believe:

I believe in the strength of poetry to effect change. I believe I live in a country that spends too much on guns and not enough on teachers. I believe people who are aggressive about the cause they support to the point of hostility, to the point of alienating people, should not be activists at all. I believe that capitalism’s worst flaw is that it depends upon a principle of constant growth, which a planet with finite resources will never be able to endure; we consume far more than the earth can sustain, but we will never do anything about it until it is too late. I believe I can singlehandedly save the US Postal system from a sad, bloody death through sheer force of willpower and many ballpoint pens.

But I never want to get too comfortable with what I believe. One of my worst fears is of becoming too passive, too complacent, and too sure of myself. That’s why I need you. I need people who are brave enough to disagree with me, slap me in the face if I need it, brave enough to stand up for me when I need it, too.

But I could tell you about what I believe in all day. The question really is, what am I going to do about it? I don’t really know the answer yet—that’s what the next four years is for. This is the most exciting, scariest thing I have ever done, and I have no clue who the hell I will be in four years and it’s the best feeling ever.

Here I come, Swarthmore. Bring it.

Isabel Knight ’16 is excited to write for the Gazette and get her Swarthmore experience started.


  1. “It is easy to cut our tongues on tough platitudes, but we all came here in search of something real. I guess at this level, it’s not just about fun anymore, it’s time to get serious. Those halcyon days are over, and real life has to start somewhere.”

    Is the author not aware of the name of Swarthmore’s yearbook?

  2. Enjoy swarthmore. It’s a beautiful place where you are surrounded by inquisitive minds and inspiring people. But I hope it’s not the best four years of your life. You have a lot of life to live post-undergrad. Be open to the ways in which being at Swarthmore will stretch you and surrendipitously shape your future. Build lasting relationships with advisors, mentors, hall mates, and people outside Swarthmore. Leave the bubble and your comfort zone. And be open to a college career that last anywhere between 3 and 7 years.

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