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can’t stop smiling by Allison E. '27

a time capsule for freshman fall

I started writing a blog about freshman fall four months ago, in October, and kept working on it for the next few weeks. And then months. And now it’s February… But this one is pretty close to my heart, and I guess it’s better late than never, so here’s that blog:

On Monday morning, I woke up at 10:00 am. I changed clothes, and brushed my teeth, and ate a breakfast of cheese & crackers. I walked to my first class of the day, then spent my free hour on a hallway bench, then continued on to my second class. I grabbed lunch with some friends, and then trekked out to my third class of the day. After classes, I took the elevator up to some group study spaces, and got distracted worked on psets with friends. When the library closed, we split up and I walked back to my dorm. I did some actual psetting for a while, then checked the time. 7:30 pm—one hour til nearby dining halls would close. I put my work away. I pulled on a sweater. I walked out of BC towards Baker’s dining hall.

And I couldn’t stop smiling.

I couldn’t stop smiling as I tapped my ID at the entrance to Baker. I couldn’t stop smiling as I waited in line for food. I couldn’t stop smiling as I sat down alone to eat, or as I pulled out my Quizlet decks to study, or even as I returned my plate and utensils to the drop-off station. I just couldn’t stop smiling.

This was probably one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had—an incredibly uneventful day suddenly injected with a boundless, inexplicable joy with no discernible cause or origin. At first I thought it was just a weird one-off moment, maybe some kind of tired delirium (even if I wasn’t that tired). But then it just kept happening. On the 20 minute walk back from my nighttime seminar, or while knitting in a library study space, or just in my room doing nothing at all. I couldn’t stop smiling.

So then, of course, I had to figure out what the heck was going on because… who knows? This could be a life-threatening disease! Maybe even… contagious! But all jokes aside, as weird as everything felt, there was really only one possible answer. 

I’m happy.

It sounds kind of silly that I even had to analyze my way to that conclusion. And it is. But I think it feels so unintuitive because I originally expected my first semester to be incredibly rough, emotionally speaking. Sure, maybe exciting new college experiences(!!) would lead to big highs, but I figured they’d be outweighed by even bigger lows—exams gone wrong or deadlines missed—and even if things didn’t get so dramatic, there’d be tougher classes and learning to live partially on my own. Most importantly, there’d be the inevitable background static of loneliness, anxiety, and homesickness. Basically, I was worrying about the things almost everyone worries about before college, but I think I was especially anxious because a lot of the “college experience” media that I consumed skewed negative, whether it was those “tips and tricks” videos that focused mostly on the challenges to overcome, or the endless short-form scroll about how lonely college can be. I’ve also always struggled with change, so I was a little terrified of the emotional toll that college might take.

But now I’m here. Only a couple months in, but here. And I am happy. 

In fact, I think I’m happier in all the metrics that I use to measure my own state of mind—my average mood is more positive, the fluctuations have felt less dramatic, and most importantly, my baseline emotional state is higher. I can feel it in those unexpected can’t-stop-smiling experiences, but there’s also just a general sense of ambient happiness. When I’m just existing, with nothing going on, no thoughts in my head, nothing to be excited or stressed about, I’m just… a low-key, contented kind of happy. It’s a truly wonderful feeling. 

I think there’s a lot of reasons that things feel pretty great right now. I’ve gotten slightly better at regulating my emotions, and I’m definitely under less pressure than in high school (hooray for being a clueless little freshman released from the burden of expectations!). It’s also not just the 🕷️💣college🪦🏴‍☠️ of the YouTube videos I watched, it’s ✨💛🕷️💣college🪦🏴‍☠️☀️🌼, feat. the other extreme of media representation! There are weird things happening in the hallways, wonderful communities to join, and a whole city to explore. That was what I looked forward to all through high school, and it’s been absolutely amazing. Then there’s the fact that everything is new, and as much as I’ve always struggled with new things, novelty is incredibly exciting. I also won’t deny that being at specifically MIT has a bit of its own “wow, I really do go here now” excitement.

But I expected all those things to be true. And when it comes to the massive jump in happiness, none of them feel important—they’re like the little bits of gold leaf decorating those massive chocolate cakes. They’re pretty, and they’re the most eye-catching, but when you actually sit down to eat, you barely notice them.

But if that’s the case, then what’s the cake? Well, as much as I’d love to, I can’t put my mental state through a rigorous scientific investigation. I can, however, take a guess: it’s having 24/7 access to some of the most amazing friends.

Ok, I’ll give you a second to cringe at that. ✨The power of friendship✨. Wow. What a breathtakingly novel insight!

Really though, I do want to talk about this, because it’s something I truly didn’t consider until now. Sure, I expected friendship to be a huge part of my college experience. I knew how much fulfillment and connection and support friendship can provide—I had some absolutely amazing friends in high school who I trust with my life, and we had more than our fair share of fun and silliness. But for all of high school I was relatively introverted. I’d do something social, and I’d definitely have fun, but then I’d come home and lie on the floor for a couple hours to slowly recoup my energy.

Partly because of this, I built most of my identity around the communities I was a part of—marching band and Science Olympiad and all the other extracurriculars where I spent my time. They mean so so much to me, and I don’t know if I’d change the amount of time and energy I put into them. But this focus did mean that my social life was often more dominated by groups with an external purpose, rather than a group just existing. It was also, well, high school. There’s only so much time you can spend together when you go home every afternoon, and all your friends live >20 minutes away.

Now, I’m suddenly in college, and I live a 0.2 mile walk away from all my friends. We need ten minutes’ notice to meet up for dinner, or a study session, or heck—a four hour cooking bonanza. I can text our group chat at 9:30 pm, and people will emerge from the woodwork to fly a half-broken paper kite in the dark. We’ve also gotten into the routine of studying in the same space, so that between classes you can almost always count on company while psetting. Everyone knows that 6:00 pm is dinnertime, and someone always broadcasts the day’s dining hall choice to our group chat so that everyone can congregate. And with all that time that we’ve spent together, I feel at completely home with them. I can hug them freely or let down my verbal filter, and rather than being drained by long hangouts, I leave our late night study sessions feeling more energized than when I arrived.

I’ve found the most amazing people here in college, with so much energy and joy and nerdiness and enthusiasm and pure unadulterated silliness that I just—there’s this intense glee that comes with being around them. It’s a joy that seeps into all the other corners of my life, and it’s made my transition to college so much easier. To all my friends, if you happen to be reading this, thank you so much. This semester has been so incredibly happy, because of you ❤️

Before I wrap this up, however, I do want to clarify that this is not a monolithic experience. I have a lot fewer things to worry about than many people. My brain and emotions work differently than others’. Most importantly, making friends in college is hard, and to be quite honest I think a lot of where I am right now is just plain luck. I’ve been so incredibly lucky. 

But I also think that a bit too much of the college content out there (or at least the content I consumed) focuses on the negative things. And that’s not to say that college is all sunshine and rainbows—I still miss my parents and my brother, I’ve still been making stupid decisions & dealing with the consequences, and I’m still struggling with finding my place here. More importantly, there’s so much ahead of me that I have no idea about. I’m only one semester in. I don’t really know anything about the breadth of college experiences, and more importantly, I’ve been incredibly lucky in my time here so far. But I do know that I didn’t have to be so afraid. And I do know that there is so much to look forward to. And I do know right now I am happy. I am joyful. I am smiling.