It was about 2:50 p.m. on a Tuesday in one of the larger lecture halls at Michigan State University. Class had been going on for nearly an hour, but my two friends and I sitting in the back of the room had basically checked out. While lazily scrolling through Twitter on my Mac, I was daydreaming about my upcoming weekend plans — I had a few parties to go to, some friends I wanted to see, and my roommate and I had to figure out how to, again, haphazardly sneak nearly sixty beers into our dorm room.
And suddenly, an email popped onto my screen. In all caps it screamed, “CONGRATULATIONS YOU HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED TO…”, and without even having to open it, I knew exactly what it was. Screaming silently to myself I realized that I was going to transfer to my dream school, one the most prestigious and elite public schools in the world, the University of Michigan.
I excitingly showed off the email to my two friends. They had known how badly I wanted to be part of the University of Michigan, yet almost instantly, their dismissive sighs and shaking heads highlighted a trend I should’ve recognized. I selfishly ignored them, and switched from daydreaming about my weekend to imagining what was a pure fantasy about how amazing my life would be at the University of Michigan.
I imagined that now, after having to spend my freshman year at my “safe” school of Michigan State — I was finally going to join the most elite students of University of Michigan where my “actual” college life would begin.
But unfortunately that life, whether or not I wanted to accept it, already had begun at MSU. That year I spent there was not dominated by self-pity and jealousy toward University of Michigan. Instead, I experienced an incredible freshman year of college life, going on date parties, attending football tailgates, playing volleyball and spending entire nights with friends cramming for exams. I had every cliché college experience at MSU and I enjoyed nearly every second.
And this life I had created was a massive investment; I had spent considerable time and energy understanding my identity and building a group of friends. I had become a permanent student at MSU — I knew every road, building, frat house and bar in the city, I had friends scattered across campus that would see me anytime and my wardrobe was adorned in MSU’s green and white that I always looked forward to wearing with a subtle pride.
Yet somehow, I allowed my pessimistic ego to get the better of me. My unending desire to be part of the elite crowd at the University of Michigan fueled a disastrous perspective that was able to blind me from all the positives in my life at MSU. I allowed my selfish thoughts to make me believe I had lost my potential and had been trapped in permanent mediocrity at the “little brother” school to the University of Michigan.
So when that transfer acceptance arrived, I was overwhelmed with this selfish joy that satisfied the jealousy I had toward students at the University of Michigan. I felt “happy,” excited, and finally felt as if I had accomplished something. I wish I had known that those feelings were only temporary. Because not only do those feelings not last, but the expectations I had built in my imagination about the University of Michigan could never be met.
And more importantly, I was throwing away everything I had built on MSU’s campus, and was basically telling my friends that they did not matter in this decision. That the campus, the school, the football tailgates, the late nights laughing and stumbling around the city, none of that was good enough for me. That underneath all of the fun and amazing times, I was unhappy and unsatisfied with all of them. And my transfer acceptance reaffirmed all of that. I was leaving, I thought I was better, and it looked as if they didn’t matter — that I thought I would make new, smarter, wealthier, well-connected friends at the University of Michigan.
Yet my friends seem to know something I didn’t, that the University of Michigan wouldn’t make me “happy,” that a school doesn’t automatically change your life for the better. Sometimes you have to make a decision for your future, sometimes you sacrifice things you think you love in the hope that later on, some greater return will come. But sometimes, these decisions are clouded from jealousy and selfishness.
Transferring to the University of Michigan changed my entire college experience; I left behind a life I could’ve embraced at MSU and often think about what could’ve been if I had just stayed. My friends were right though, a school doesn’t make you happy — it’s what you make of it.