First-Year Focus: Only the beginning

Final freshman year reflections


Rachel Wei

Streams of newly admitted students, easily identifiable by their “admitted student” stickers, flood Commons, gathering around the registration table. Potential VU ’23 students have arrived, and yes, it’s weird seeing them. It feels like just yesterday that I was on the same Anchor Days tour, and excited about receiving the burlap backpack that proudly displayed Vanderbilt’s logo. As I wound my way around the crowd, trying to get into the dining hall for a quick breakfast before class, I felt a bit nostalgic. Although this year hasn’t officially ended yet, with only one week left of classes, I would say my first-year here is pretty much over. Reflecting back on everything that has happened, expected or not, I feel more and more convinced that the end of this year doesn’t signify an end, but rather the beginning of another once-in-a-lifetime college adventure.

Throughout this year, I’ve shared my observations, thoughts and the lessons I’ve learned from my first year in college. I think one of the reasons I had so much to write about is due to the fact that this year hasn’t exactly been what I expected. Although I didn’t come into college with many specific expectations, this year has been filled with surprises. Whether it’s being able to not only get along with, but become close friends with my roommate, meeting people I can see myself being friends with 10 years down the line or pursuing experiences I didn’t even knew existed before coming here, a lot has happened. For example, I was pleasantly surprised at being able to finally visit somewhere in the U.S. besides the Coasts through Mock Trial, where we traveled to Columbus, Louisville, Boulder, Atlanta, and Memphis this year.

I feel extremely lucky to have had a relatively smooth transition to college, and a year filled with more ups than downs. I know that we all had varied experiences, but I think many first-years (soon to be sophomores!) will look back on this year pretty fondly. For many first-years, this year has been filled with self-discovery on many levels. Personally, I learned that I am not the most talented at Chemistry, but that I was right in choosing to major in Biology. I’ve learned that I am still an Ancient Roman history nerd and a die-hard fan of great works of literature. I’ve learned that reaching out and talking to those around me, whether at breakfast or at a club meeting, is worthwhile and necessary to get the most out of this college experience.

This year, I have also learned a lot about myself from others. I never moved around growing up, so this year was the first time that I had a completely new batch of peers that would be getting to know me with a blank slate; their present impression wouldn’t be influenced by 5th grade me or an obscure childhood memory. Through comments my friends and sometimes strangers have made, in additional to the many personality/strengths tests I’ve taken in HOD this year, I’ve come to understand myself better. Although I would say that I haven’t changed dramatically since I was younger, other people’s observations have been insightful, interesting and sometimes pretty hilarious.

On the social side of things, I’ve learned to embrace the plethora of events that are always happening on campus. Whether academic, cultural or performative, there’s always something to watch and participate in. I’ve learned that yes, there is an overwhelming majority of students who like to go out, but that it’s also possible to find those to hang out with who don’t. I’ve learned that this experience is what you make of it, and that it’s ok to do your own thing.

This crazy, eventful year has made me even more excited to see what’s ahead. I’m excited to continue to meet interesting, unique and accomplished peers and faculty, sign up for random, but really interesting classes, and take part in organizations that catch my eye just for the fun of it. Although I will be sad to leave the comfortable, cushioned first-year Commons experience, I can’t wait for the Class of 2023 to have their own unique experiences on Commons, and for me to start the next chapter of my journey here. I know it won’t be smooth sailing all the time, but I’m excited for the growth and challenges that await.