Going to college was an exercise in dealing with culture shock for me. The boundaries and convictions I chose to live by seemed to be in opposition to the culture I was now immersed in. I was coming to the conclusion I was the only person on campus concerned with making healthy choices and living with the future in mind, until something happened to me that changed my perspective.
Junior year I was in a resident’s advisor position in a freshmen dorm. It was so fun helping the students through the hurdles associated with settling into their new lives during orientation week. As students started arriving on campus, our school hosted a comedian for a back-to-school kickoff event. Thinking it would be fun, I told my residents I was going and they were welcome to come. About 15 residents took me up on the offer, including my friend and co-RA for the dorm, Rachael.
We were the first people to arrive at the gym, so we were able to sit front and center. With the bleachers pushed out of the way and several hundred folding chairs arranged on the wood floors, it looked like they were expecting the whole campus, faculty and staff to show up for this guy. Little did I know our positioning was soon to prove quite significant in the way the night was about to unfold.
I had spent the majority of orientation making sure I covered all the campus rules and regulations with my residents. But more than imparting rules, I wanted to show the freshmen that they didn’t have to fall into the trap that I had witnessed many of my friends and peers fall into during my freshman and sophomore years — something I call the “everyone else is doing it” pit. It’s like some kind of under-the-radar literature goes out to all incoming freshmen that says, “Welcome to college. Do whatever you want without worrying about the consequences. Everyone else is experimenting. So you should, too.” In other words, check your common sense and self-respect at the proverbial college door — you won’t need it here!
Practically speaking, what I was doing during orientation was encouraging my residents to study, make good friends and set boundaries. So you can imagine my dismay when the comedian started joking about all the things you were “expected” to do in college, none of which seemed appropriate nor did they fall in line with what I had been trying to instill in the impressionable freshmen since they arrived on campus. My friend Rachael gave me a furtive glance and immediately knew that I was uncomfortable.
The brave me — the one who could wrestle with a lion — wanted to stand up and tell this guy he was way out of line. But the rest of me thought, “It’s ok — just wait it out and maybe his jokes will get better.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t get better. I didn’t know what to do. I felt trapped because I was sitting front and center. If I got up and left, it would create a horrible scene. (If you knew me, you would know causing a scene is my worst nightmare.) At one point, I felt like the brash comedian was specifically making fun of me and the convictions I chose to live by.
I don’t know what possessed me, but I stood up and started marching toward the back of the gym. I marched right past the endless rows of students, professors and faculty. How humiliating; I felt every eye on me. What’s more, now the comedian was really making fun of me! I heard something like, “I don’t think she appreciates my jokes!”
Out in the night air, I started feeling pretty sorry for myself. Here I was trying to help people, and this is the thanks I get? What was the point of standing up for what’s right when all it did was invite mockery?
It was then that I turned around and saw all of the people coming out of the gym behind me. In my haste to get out of everyone’s line of vision, I had tucked my head and ran. I hadn’t noticed all the other people who followed me and apparently also disagreed with this comedian. The crowd spilled out of the gym like a wave onto the sidewalk and my heart swelled with hope. Apparently, they saw me get up and found the courage to walk out, too. To my surprise, I wasn’t alone.
Know that you don’t have to take everything presented to you as truth once you get to college. Not everyone thinks the same way, does the same things or makes the same mistakes. Don’t be afraid to live by healthy boundaries and think for yourself. Your future is important — more important than fitting in with the crowd. And although it may not seem like it at the time, people will respect you for standing up for your convictions.
Megan Briggs graduated from Linfield College (www.linfield.edu) with a degree in creative writing. She currently works as the product manager for Generations of Virtue (www.apuregeneration.com).