With the campus population so much sparser in the summer, it’s easy to spot differences among passing crowds. For the past few weeks, a certain species could not go unnoticed walking the Diag and roaming State Street.

They travel in packs, wearing bulky lanyards around their necks and excessive University of Michigan gear fresh out of their swinging M Den bags. They make me chuckle, because just one year ago, I was one of them: unsure of my whereabouts, excited and, ironically, disoriented — an orientation kid.

Now, it’s hard to believe that I had once been so unfamiliar with this university. Exactly one year ago, trekking from the holy East Quad with eyes glued to Google Maps, I was worn out by high school, nervous and uncertain about my future. I was lost, both literally and figuratively, and entirely unaware of who I was to become.

Yet, as I watch their confusion and excitement, I can practically relive the freshness of orientation, almost longing to be on that momentous brink of change again. While the details are fuzzy, my memories of orientation stand out collectively as a distinct feeling of novelty, marked by an independence that I couldn’t yet comprehend.

Coming from a reserved suburban household, a number of things shocked me those two days. Having been told that I would never escape my “high school circle” in college, I was amazed by the amount of unfamiliar faces and even more so by the expectation of befriending them. Just a few days after graduation, I wasn’t ready to leave behind petty notions of high school cliques and the social taboo of simply approaching someone outside of my own social group.

In essence, I couldn’t imagine ever being confident or comfortable enough to reach out to others my own age, much less be surrounded by them day and night for the next four years. As a result, my social interaction at orientation was restricted to a grand total of one friend — a high school classmate, of course. But while I still regret not branching out earlier, it didn’t stop me from having fun for those two days.

The orientation high I’ll always be able to remember is the sheer taste of freedom — that I perhaps now take for granted. Having been accustomed to strict parents for the first 18 years of my life, I couldn’t fathom the ease with which I could roam about campus, stay up until 2 a.m. or spend money without consequence.

The campus was huge and unexplored, the dining hall food was a luxury and, apparently, anyone could be my friend. I felt a distinct break between my life up to that moment, a striking freshness and unforgettable optimism amid the confusion.

But as I attended informational lectures and scheduled my very first classes, I felt the same fear we all did: was I ready for college classes? Would I even find them? What will I have advanced in my career a year from now, next summer?

Remembering this, I couldn’t help but smile — out of amusement, because I recall so clearly that anxiety that had plagued me exactly 12 months ago, but also out of appreciation, because I never would’ve pictured myself as the person I am today.

We are told not to live in the past, but growth cannot be measured in the absence of reflection.

Following that eventful orientation, my first year of college was, as it is for all of us, marked by countless milestones, or “firsts”: first stranger to become a best friend, first independent decision, first all-night study session, first full-time job — the list goes on and on.

Over time, my firsts turned into standards and my naïve freshman self grew into an individual. Though the point at which I crossed into adulthood is difficult to define, the difference in my maturity is distinct. A year ago, I would have hardly believed that I could converse readily with strangers or even stray far enough from home that I would encounter one. I would’ve dismissed the reality of financial independence, and I was terrified of an impending career that I’ve learned only hard work can pay for.

But somewhere along the line, I proved myself wrong. With uncertainty and challenge, I have grown into a better version of myself — defined not by my high school, my family nor my former reservations but rather by my own ideas and actions that are given so much room for growth at this school. Looking back, I can attest to the rumors: change is good, and I’m proud of it.

So, for those of you who are long past your orientation days, I urge you to pop that dusty lanyard back on for one last throwback. A simple self-reflection cannot be underestimated; recognizing personal growth only creates increased cause to advance. We will only keep growing.

For those of you who have yet to taste the freshman experience, don’t toss that lanyard off just yet. You’ll want to remember what it feels like around your neck; a year from now, you might feel completely different.

And I promise you, you don’t want to forget it.

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