WEITZEL: Vanderbilt has an issue with adulting

We’re supposed to have it all figured out — batteries and healthy sleep schedule not included.
A graphic depicting a well-dressed person sporting a pouch of applesauce (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez).
A graphic depicting a well-dressed person sporting a pouch of applesauce (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez).
Lexie Perez

If you meet any of my friends around campus, they will have a lot of interesting things to say about me. One thing I can almost guarantee they’ll talk about is my obsession with applesauce. And yes, I mean the kind from Munchie Mart: the all-too-recognizable squeezy pouch that you can get in quantities of three for a meal swipe. 

Cinnamon applesauce, being the superior of your given options, is something I carry with me everywhere. To class, to parties, around my dorm, study rooms and more. I knew it was a real problem when I had a first-year come up to me in Rand one day and passionately exclaim: “No way! You were my tour guide when I visited here. The one with the applesauce!”

I realize how funny it must be to see 20 and 21-year-olds around campus carrying these squeezy pouches. The irony of seeing grown people having a pouch that resembles baby food has been funny to my friends — and for me, it serves as a reflection on how I must look to people who have never met me around campus.

But still, as I start each day with my first pouch of applesauce, I’ve noticed that it reminds me of childhood — and the freedom that came with it. 

Vanderbilt has an issue with adulting. We worked so hard to get where we are and are constantly under pressure to keep exceeding expectations. We feel the need to always know what’s next and have a concrete plan to get there: we need to have a LinkedIn full of prestigious networks and a resume loaded with impressive activities. We need the grades to get into graduate school, no matter the burden or the all-nighters we pulled along the way. We need a circle of perfect friends that support us unconditionally — our forever friends we made in our freshman dorm. We need to live up to this unattainable balance of working hard and playing hard. We need to have the executive board position in the organization or club you really enjoy, because you’re not doing it right if you’re not working up the ladder. Even in social settings, we need to present ourselves as professional and smart at all times. We must do all these things and do them constantly. 

We’re supposed to always have it figured out — batteries and a healthy sleep schedule not included.

The way we present ourselves and what we choose to do with our time has taken on a disproportionate weight in our current list of priorities. Back in high school, we could choose to be our playful, erratic and chaotic selves outside of school hours: driving to Cookout, water guns in the school parking lot, hours upon hours of Wii bowling. But bell to bell, there was always a distinct line put in place — we’re at school so we should act a certain way — a more professional, measured appearance. 

Vanderbilt has an issue with adulting. We worked so hard to get where we are and are constantly under pressure to keep exceeding expectations. We feel the need to always know what’s next and have a concrete plan to get there.

At Vanderbilt, this separation has quickly faded as school and home become the same place. It’s a distinct challenge as we try to make sense of our college identity and decide how we should present that identity to others. Sure, we’ll probably present different versions of ourselves at a Saturday tailgate than at a Monday genetics lecture (or maybe not and I’m happy for you if that’s the case), but it’s important to recognize the moments when we’re putting on a mask to seem like the perfect Vandy student who has it all together. There isn’t always a natural escape from the “school” environment and so disconnecting from the elite, Vanderbilt persona is not only healthy — it’s necessary. 

My applesauce habit may seem childish, but when I have that pouch in hand, my whole mood shifts. That’s the physical way I can disconnect; I can take a break from carrying the burdens of being an “elite Vanderbilt student.” I can choose to walk through the lawns instead of the sidewalks. I can dance to Pitbull around Rothschild instead of walking head-down and focused. I can be – even for a moment – unaware of and unbothered by the people who are wearing nicer clothes than I am, the people who are learning more complex material than I am and those who are doing more exciting activities than I am.

This is not to say that being or acting like an adult is a bad thing. When hit with moments of tragedy, difficult conversations and numerous responsibilities, you need maturity and clarity to process tough emotions and situations. Your lived experiences — your “adulting” — help guide you through communicating in relationships, managing your academic needs and building a healthy schedule for your day.

Plus, the unrelenting pressure of doing well at Vanderbilt can make taking time for yourself feel unimportant when compared to your never-ending to-do list. I understand how it feels when you’ve done so much work for yourself, your future and your personal growth: embracing your inner child can feel like a step backwards, unhealthy or even wasteful of your time and energy.

But if you believe that taking a break from presenting yourself around campus as the perfect, successful Vanderbilt student — even for a moment — is too costly to try, let me give you something to consider. Anyone who says they have it figured out must have the secrets that no one else does, or more likely, they’re not telling the truth. Most of us are silently struggling, wishing we could be honest about the pace of life this school demands and every responsibility and commitment that comes with carrying that burden. Ultimately, we need to commit ourselves to activities and time spent away from these pressures.

Here’s what I suggest: go outside and take a walk. Play some music if that will give you energy. Let yourself wander and admire things like a child does. Children that wander around aren’t looking at other people when they walk. They don’t care what people wear, how they behave or how they are being perceived by others. Children gravitate towards soft things like grass, shiny things like a fork from a dining hall left on the sidewalk or colorful things like flowers. They gravitate towards whatever catches their eye first, in all of its beautiful simplicity.

Make time for the chaotic things. If your roommate wants to go to Waffle House at 1 a.m., go. If someone offers to play ping pong with you on a random Tuesday, beat them. If you have an idea that may not work because people are “too busy,” share it with them anyway. Heck, go on the ‘Scomb swings for a while. They must be there for a reason.

Anyone who says they have it figured out must have the secrets that no one else does, or more likely, they’re not telling the truth. Most of us are silently struggling, wishing we could be honest about the pace of life this school demands and every responsibility and commitment that comes with carrying that burden.

Notice how not all of these things are the prescribed “fun things” to do in college. Sometimes, the most memorable moments are those that aren’t concerned with what others around us might be doing instead. Also, notice that all of these things take time away from being the “perfect” student. Time away from the essay you really need to write, that exam that requires your full attention and the internship you know you need to devote a couple more hours to. 

The time you made for yourself and the memories with people you value will carry far beyond the years you spent here on campus. At the end of the day, you’ve done such great work becoming the person and adult you are today, so take some time to pay attention to the inner child that helped get you there. Your future self, your friends and your playful, chaotic self that you’re unsure if people will accept, will thank you.

It seems like a simple fix to take a step back and feel silly, but it can be incredibly hard to do. As your Vanderbilt life rushes around you, give yourself the grace you deserve and check in on the people around you trying to do the same. You don’t need to present yourselves to others in a certain way for their benefit — we might be better off dancing around Alumni Lawn and eating applesauce instead.

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About the Contributors
Noah Weitzel, Senior Staff Writer
Noah Weitzel (‘25) is majoring in secondary education and molecular & cellular biology in Peabody College and the College of Arts & Science. He is from Raleigh, N.C., and eats at least one applesauce from Munchie Mart a day. When not bouncing off the nearest wall, Noah can be found giving tours and playing four square with his middle school students. He can be reached at [email protected]
Lexie Perez, Graphics Director
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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