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Amy Yao Headshot

Going to the 'Wrong College'

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Last Thursday morning, I woke up at eight, looked at the calendar on my wall, and burst into tears.

It was March 1. All around campus, 2,000 other people were groggily waking up, or hitting snooze, or trudging through the rapidly melting snow to Dana Dining Center after morning practice, indifferent to the date, and oblivious to my soggy, puffy-eyed despair. March 1 to them was nothing more than a "3/1" replacing the "2/29" in their notes, nothing more than a tentative promise that the endlessly indecisive North Country weather would settle on spring -- but to me, March 1 was the deadline for transfer applications, and I had not submitted one.

I don't know why looking at the date elicited such a sudden and emotional response in me. Following a conversation with my parents over winter break, we had collectively decided that transferring out of St. Lawrence wouldn't make sense financially, and that the transfer application process would probably detract from my studying time. I was performing reasonably well academically, having earned a 3.9 during first semester, and served on the executive boards of three organizations, in addition to playing a sport and freelancing in my spare time. The only problem was my happiness -- or rather, my lack thereof.

How much is happiness worth, in legal tender? When I sealed the envelope addressed to St. Lawrence that contained my signature and a $500 non-refundable check, I was declaring that my happiness was worth the grand total of $53,740, the comprehensive annual fee, because I had chosen St. Lawrence solely on the basis that my boyfriend of two years went to college there. I resolutely ignored all the admonition I received, from teachers and friends alike, and insisted that I knew what I was doing, that I would be happy at school with Andy and would be able to stand out much easier than at Amherst or Tufts, two schools to which I sent moneyless replies. It was a foolproof plan, I thought. I envisioned myself embarking on a journey to defy convention, to prove to everyone (or maybe just to myself) that it is possible to follow your high school boyfriend to college and end up happy and successful.

As you've probably deduced, all did not go according to plan. On the surface, I probably appeared well-adjusted and thriving, doing all the things college freshmen are supposed to do: join clubs, get involved, chat up professors during office hours, and accidentally set off the door alarm once or twice during dinner and immediately dissolve into a panic. After a few weeks had gone by, however, I felt myself beginning to fall apart at the seams. Once the most chipper of optimists, I felt myself slipping deeper and deeper into a strange, melancholy funk as I tried seemingly in vain to find someone who could understand and articulate the source of my unhappiness. Where were the people like my wonderful high school best friends, who could carry on a conversation for hours, who knew at a glance what I was feeling? I saw people forming cozy social circles everywhere I turned, but my attempts to feel accepted only left me feeling like I was pretending to be someone I wasn't.

And so it went, this vicious cycle, at the beginning of which a shred of the original optimism would return, boldly declaring that I would find my niche and flourish -- until a slew of failed ventures set me brooding and seething on the inside again. Maybe everyone was right, I would think, maybe I did go to the wrong college. I even went so far as to open another Common Application account, tentatively adding a few schools to my transfer list and making that terrible return visit to College Confidential, which made me feel, if possible, even worse.

It wasn't until last weekend that I was forced to stop feeling sorry for myself. The aforementioned boyfriend, of all people, sat me down and suggested that perhaps it was my attitude that was keeping me from being happy. And with that simple statement, I realized what I was doing.

I was choosing to be unhappy, because it was so much easier to be bitter and aloof rather than to value people for their intrinsic worth; because for so long, subconsciously, I had considered this school to be beneath me because it wasn't the school I had dreamed of attending. I had built a wall of self-pity around myself, and I hadn't even realized it.

Armed with this realization, I am now well on the way to optimism again. My March 1 morning was the day my last vestiges of bitterness left via my tear ducts, and I have discovered where happiness truly can be found: something that only the "wrong college" could have taught me.