I was asked before attending college, “Are you worried you’ll feel small?” My answer was always “no.” The truth reads differently.
From being an 18-year-old freshman to a 22-year-old senior, I’ve obsessed over my insignificance. The others have scholarships. The others have 300 likes on each of their Instagram posts. The others locked themselves into internships. The others travel more. The others look better without a shirt on. The others are on a path traveling toward success. I struggle for money, for likes, for successful applications, for trips to Europe, to keep my weight down. To figure out where it is I’m going.
The pain and the process humbled me. The others made it look so simple.
One thing I’ve never concerned myself with is how the others write. I’ve had blind confidence in my ability to pen essays, news articles, columns, short stories and novels, almost never stopping to be jealous about the work of other scribes, excepting Mark Twain. Due in part to my time at The Daily Campus, I’m my own writer now – not even Samuel Clemens is a measuring stick. This could come from a combination of my whiteness and maleness; it could be my mother’s encouragement; it could be that I’m actually that good. I decided long before college that if I couldn’t have everything I wanted, I could at least let the world know how good I am at the one thing I can do well.
I’m sure other students have felt the unnerving sensation of paradox, that is, conflicting skills and convictions being held within them at once. Ironing the oppressive insecurity and overwhelming arrogance flat is impossible. It wasn’t until junior year that I accepted my reality: I make no sense. At this point, the puzzle became clear.
The Daily Campus was my outlet and my proof of my productivity. My mom, my girlfriends, professors and acquaintances could see I was an active part of the UConn community. Afloat for two years on a sea of confusion, drunkenness and student journalism, I was still treading water during the first semester of my junior year. No amount of hard drugs could have brought about the epiphany I had as the weather was beginning to turn, just before Storrs succumbed to winter’s windswept desolation.
Leaving the library at 2 a.m., I headed for the commuter lot where my car was parked. I made the customary trek to the middle of campus, cutting through the quad behind the Student Union (on big campuses, always take the diagonals) and, though alone, I felt not loneliness, but solitude. A song played in my headphones.
I stopped in the heart of the quad. The world fell away. I saw this was not my future. Forever is not chasing girls, be they the floor below me in my dorm or met at a party or the bar or Tinder, is not stealing road signs, is not breaking laws and avoiding police with my friends, is not reading and taking notes for 12 hours a day, is not bargaining for a better exam score, is not buying a pack of cigarettes after a breakup, is not starting fights at track parties or frat parties or a cappella parties, is not traipsing through Hunting Lodge looking for those fights and those parties, is not orientation or Oozeball or national championships, is not Mirror Lake or day drinking or hiking or debating with fellow students. The future is not The Daily Campus, either.
The future is this moment, for I will hold on to it until I die.
The future is not for lovers; it’s for love.
The future is not for writers; it’s for writing.
The future isn’t graded; it’s learned.
The future, or, at least, my future, isn’t working; it’s a career. It’s passion.
Standing motionless in the epicenter of campus, a scene usually defined by movement and scope, the moon my only company, I felt BIG, man. The buildings surrounding me, full of empty rooms, spoke of the varied pursuits of the daytime. I saw I belonged to that activity, but felt outside of it, as if my role is to comment on rather than take part in. I remained shrouded in silence, besides the music.
All at once, UConn was alight. USG held a senate meeting directly in front of me – somehow I could hear their pettiness through the upper-level window of the Union. Dance recitals and practices occurred on either side of the quad and upstairs in ITE. A professor thundered on convincingly about the evils of the military-industrial complex in Oak Hall. President Susan Herbst took to the top of Gampel Pavilion to extol the money and prestige STEM has delivered to the university. SUBOG organized an outdoor concert just for me, featuring my favorite rappers (co-headlined by Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z). I saw my good friend Haddiyyah Ali leading a protest against Donald Trump alongside Eric Cruz López. Students marched down Fairfield Way to raise awareness for and bemoan sexual assault. Did I mention that everyone was wearing a costume because it happened to be Halloween (the best holiday at UConn, period)? Amid all this, Greek Life hosted a legendary crawl, and it was Nickel Night at every bar near campus. The Daily Campus was holding its banquet in Laurel Hall and the Long River Review had its launch party in Storrs Center simultaneously. Freshman year came back: every single one of my comrades, graduated or still studying, the entirety of the Goon Squad and the farm people and Daily Campus employees and others gathered to burn, eat, drink, play lawn games and talk trash. Still, it was impossible to find a spot in the library.
The future is the past all at once. The future is what happens when you decide you are of the world, and that you don’t belong to your past.
I stood for a total of 10 minutes before continuing on to my car. Sometimes competition with your peers, plans for the weekend, personal tragedy and responsibilities can overshadow the intoxicating beauty and seclusion of youth, of the moon over the Benton Museum of Art. We were all thrown into these four years of constant socializing, of tailgates and pregames and dining hall trips. There is a warmth in this intimacy and inseparability, but being alone is among the most beneficial parts of going to college. Alone in a foreign country. Alone, writing in The Daily Campus building conference room. Alone at 2:15 am in awe of my existence, immobile in my big-ass backyard.
Now people ask me, “Are you going to miss UConn?” My answer is always “yes.” I’ve sought to slow down this final month, which was fruitless, as life only moved faster once the weather got warmer. This school and its independent student paper is where I became myself, where I wrote more than 500 articles, investigative features and columns, where I found adventure, affection, love, friendship, where I was promoted, where I was passed over for promotion, and The Daily Campus building is where I inevitably went whenever I was dealing with one of my bouts of depression. I thank the sources willing to speak out for lifting me up. I thank the multifaceted people who attend UConn for their vitality. I thank those who emailed contesting or supporting an article I authored. I thank my adversaries for the challenge, but mostly, I thank my mentors and my friends.
In the copious amounts of writing I’ve done for The Daily Campus, anyone who wants to can see my soul and hear my voice.
I’m going to grad school. I’ve built strong professional and social relationships. My polemical writings and utter lack of shame/fear have made me a “campus celebrity,” a backhanded compliment I received from someone a couple weeks back. Considering my time at UConn, I’ve done everything I came to do. But is the 22-year-old me the person 18-year-old me looked up to? Wanted to be?
We will all move to new places, develop new goals, perhaps topple the toxic movement supporting this horrific presidency, or start a business, but we will never leave UConn. We are tiny, and cannot compare to the collective size of the controversies, calamities, triumphs and laughs of our peers. Knowing this should not impair our efforts to match the largesse we face daily. In fact, we should be anxious to surpass the deeds of generations before us. We should know the future can contain as much beauty as the past.
We’d be wrong not to be scared; we’d be wrong not to be brash.
Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.