ABEL: Never Have I Ever

My first year of college was the “Never Have I Ever” game I didn’t want to win.

Statue+wearing+mask

Emery Little

A statue of Martha Rivers Ingram wears a mask to encourage students to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Emery Little/Hustler Multimedia)

Zoe Abel, Opinion Editor

The rules of Never Have I Ever are simple. 

Each player takes a turn listing potential experiences they’ve never had. Each game presents a chance to relive funny, embarrassing, and awkward moments with your friends. The game boils down to recalling experiences that you haven’t had, but you know most have. There are many classic college experiences that players desire to have, envying those who can put a finger down. Sitting in my childhood bed thinking of all the experiences I didn’t have has made it difficult to ignore that I will never have a normal first year of college. 

Never have I ever experienced college without a pandemic. This year was hard. This year had a lot of listless days and long nights. This year had a lot of “oh-god-I-can’t-do-this” moments. This year had me oscillating widely between feeling good enough and wholly inadequate. There was a lot of self-doubt, wondering whether I would measure up to other students. There were moments of uncertain successes and resounding failures. There were trials and errors; I quickly learned that you can’t leave laundry in the dryer even a minute after it’s done or attempt to survive on Munchie snacks during a snowstorm. There was picking myself up off the ground and sometimes just staying there. 

Never have I ever had the first-year experience. The pandemic has put everyone through a fair share of challenges, and the Class of 2024 has become no stranger to its disappointments. We entered college in a world torn apart by a virus and the callous murders of Black Americans. It is hard to wrap our minds around the unceremonious beginning to what we were counting on being the most fun-filled days of our lives. I hope that Vanderbilt understands that the Class of 2024 holds the undesirable title of being the champion of Never Have I Ever: College Pandemic Edition. Our first-year experience was not the same as in years past and we paid in ways other than money. We missed out on traditions, experiences, bonding, and just being college students. It is my sincere hope that our administration provides our class some of the experiences we missed when we come back as sophomores in the fall. 

Never have I ever had a normal semester. I am about to turn 20 years old—supposedly the most fun and active time in my life. However, I could barely leave my room for much of the semester. I spent ten days in a quarantine dorm with no human contact. I went to get tested for COVID-19 28 times. I combatted crippling social anxiety when I tried to preserve my sanity through socialization. I obsessively wrote affirmations on sticky notes and stuck them to my walls, dressers, doors. I repeated to my friends nonstop that life is worth living, even when mine felt impossible. At any given moment this semester, I was stressed, sad, sleepy, or starving. Sometimes I felt all of those at once. 

Never have I ever felt like I completely belonged. When I first arrived on campus, part of me thought I had been accepted due to a stroke of luck, and that I would not measure up to the other students. My feelings were confirmed after I bombed my first General Chemistry test. It was the worst grade I’d ever received and I worried that I wasn’t cut out to study here. It was only after meeting other classmates and hearing the horror stories that I realized I wasn’t alone. Even if Vanderbilt students are smart and ambitious, we can’t be superhuman. While Vanderbilt is a place built on exceptionality, it leaves ample room for each of us to mature into the best people we can be. 

Never have I ever lacked community and friendship at Vanderbilt. Every equation we learn in class is on Wikipedia. Every book we read is in a public library. Every theory we learn is in a YouTube video. So why are we even here at all?  My theory is that if you take a bunch of brilliant and determined people and put them all in the same group of buildings, you get something greater than the sum of its parts. You get a community of friends who want to learn equations and read books together.

Vanderbilt is filled with givers—of warm cookies in lobbies, greetings, problem set answers, friendship, space, and perhaps most valuable of all, time. 

Never have I ever been so grateful for my friends. I think often about the people who entered my life at Vanderbilt. I think of my Towers’ hallmates who made every day a little more bearable. I think of my friends crowded around a table at Satco fervently comparing answers after Gen Chem exams. I think of the future roommate I met in a writing seminar and the engineers who have become my best friends. I think of the stranger who offered me a battery for my calculator in lecture and the professor who ran to help me when my mail blew across alumni lawn.

The Beatles said it best: “We get by with a little help from our friends.” 

Never have I ever been so excited for a “normal” future. Regardless of what the next three years hold, I’m excited. I don’t need to have a Hollywood-esque college experience; I just want a normal day-in-the-life with meals in dining halls, social events, and classes in person. 

The first year of college was one of the most brutally wonderful years of my life to date. I experienced massive geographical upheaval, a great love, beginnings, endings, and too many goodbyes. It was nothing short of spectacular. I loved, I lost and I fell apart—and this is the place from which I write to you. This was a year of growing, learning, grieving, and giving. In a strange way, the experiences that we as the Class of 2024 missed out on this year were their own version of a college experience.

The fact that we all got here—and that we are still here—is a testament to something great.