My freshman year may not have looked the same as how it appeared in my daydreams, but at least one moment did.
It’s April: move-out season. With every decoration I take down, with every box I put into my parents’ car, my dorm starts to look more and more like it did the day I moved in: bare walls, empty shelves, clean desks. I stood here just last August, at the start of my freshman year, and I thought about what it might be like to move out. I pictured myself, standing, staring at the room I had spent so much time in and realizing how empty it felt. The moment is exactly how I pictured it.
Only I look different than my daydream: I’m a whole lot paler, for one, and I dyed my hair darker, but I feel like I look at the world through a new lens. I feel more like an adult everyday, as naive as that sounds, considering I’m still 18 years old.
I watch videos of myself from the beginning of the Fall semester and remember a few things. Mostly, I remember how scared I was — I wish I could talk to that version of me and tell her she’ll make friends, that she won’t be alone, that she will find people and activities and a million other things to make her happy in this new place.
But I also remember that everything felt so romantic to me back then, during move-in. The craziness of a frat didn’t give me a pounding headache, but convinced me that I was living a moment in a teen movie. My friends and I walked back one night from a movie marathon, and when it struck midnight, they sang “Happy Birthday” to me as we walked across the bridge connecting the Natural History Museum to the rest of the Hill Neighborhood, staring up at the stars. At that moment, I swore someone had written it, that it wasn’t real, that things like this just didn’t happen to actual people.
Now, that version of me who romanticized the college experience just doesn’t exist anymore. She was rather sweet, but incredibly naive. I almost envy her. Everything was so beautiful to her, everything was so exciting. Now, the closest I get to that feeling is remembering it through her eyes.
I think that times like the end of another school year are interesting, mainly because everyone’s going through all of these big life changes. They’re seasons of change, with everyone looking to the future, and if you’re like me, also looking back on the past.
I soon began to wonder whether my experience with naivety was similar to others. Was I alone in that little bit of envy, or did others look back on the naive versions of themselves with distaste, or maybe with a crooked little smile? I thought the best people to talk to would be college students, because each year brings different transitions that could influence people’s perspectives. So I found someone from each class beyond my own — sophomore, junior and senior — and I got to talking.
I sit in a back room at the Student Publications Building and dial the number of LSA sophomore Ava Shapiro. She’s laying on the couch in her sorority house, phone to her ear. She laughs when she tells me this. According to her, she looks like any stereotypical sorority girl in a movie — which is odd, because she says she almost never uses that couch.
Shapiro doesn’t consider herself naive — at least, not in comparison to her peers. She told me that she’s an “old soul”, and those that are naive tend to be “new souls”. When I ask her to imagine someone who’s naive, the picture is fairly clear to her, though she said the image isn’t like the one portrayed in the media.
“Stereotypically, people who are naive are younger — but I actually find that not to be the case,” Shapiro said. “I feel like naivety is just kind of innate, almost. Some people are just naturally a bit more naive.”
Not that this excludes her, of course. While Shapiro thinks that some people just tend to be more naive than others, Shapiro also doesn’t doubt that anyone can be naive about certain things. In fact, Shapiro can easily picture a time where she was naive: early in high school.
Shapiro grew up in a small town in Ohio where, according to her, nothing ever happened. She claims that while some of her ideas from when she was younger — like the fact that she wanted to live in a city, and get out of her town — have stayed the same, a lot of them have changed.
“I was very judgemental towards people who didn’t feel the same way, in terms of wanting to get out,” Shapiro said. “Now I feel a lot more aware of how it’s just not for everyone to move away from home, it’s also not for everyone to live in big cities.”
When Shapiro talked about this, I couldn’t help but hear myself in her story. I also grew up in a small town, and couldn’t understand how anyone would want to stay there forever, or anyone would want to come home every weekend after leaving for college. Now, my heart aches everytime I think of my parents, my dogs, my home. I don’t regret moving away, but I do understand how some people find trouble with it.
While I thought I had all the answers about being naive, or at least a fair bit of them, I couldn’t help but feel naive when I was talking to Shapiro. She seemed to have a much more concrete understanding of what being naive meant, and she had already accepted the fact that she was naive about some things, and that that was okay, especially because she didn’t consider herself naive overall.
Not only that — she was actively working to become less naive, while I was just drowning in the feeling of it, the way it evolved. I was just taking it as it was, and not thinking about how I could use it to inform my life moving forward. I couldn’t believe that even though we were only a year apart in grade, we had such different ideas about being naive, and that hers were so much more in-depth and informed than mine.
I wanted to know if that trend continued, if people older than her would be using their ideas about naivety in their lives, if they had even more mature ideas about being naive. So I kept digging.
The next day, I interrupted LSA junior Annika Smuts in the middle of working on her set for a DJ gig she had coming up in two days. She tells me to call her Annie, and then describes the scene in front of her over the phone: lounging in the office off of her bedroom, laptop and DJ board in front of her.
I ask Smuts much of the same questions that I asked Shapiro, and she gives me much of the same answers. Like Shapiro, she pictures herself in high school when I ask her to think of being naive. She, like many others I’ve talked to, had a feeling of ‘not knowing anything’ about the world before she came into college — and she also feels like, now, she’s a lot more aware.
But Smuts doesn’t doubt that she’s still naive, not for a second. Her response when I asked her what she felt she was still naive about?
“Everything. I don’t know anything.”
Smuts doesn’t think this is all that bad of a thing — in fact, she thinks she’s not alone, and that she shouldn’t be.
“I feel like any 21-year-old that thinks they’re not naive is not self-aware,” Smuts said.
“(21-year-old’s) are so young,” Smuts said. “It feels like we’ve done a lot, but we haven’t really been out in the real world yet.”
This sentiment intrigued me. Smuts, Shapiro and I had all agreed that we were naive in the past about the way the world worked, and that we had come far from that point, but it was Smuts who pointed out that this college experience of ours in no way meant we had experienced the real world. I began to see this state I was in, this strange transitional period, where I was less naive than I was, but still more naive than I should be, scoffing at my ‘high-school-self’ for her immaturity yet still being unable to believe that soon I would be living in my own apartment.
Have I really been existing in this limbo for a year?
When I asked Smuts how she felt about still being a little naive, she said that she was scared, but excited. And I understand that, having just had to make decisions about my life that seemed so massive that I could barely comprehend I was allowed to make them on my own. Of course, my decisions like picking a major, or deciding on where to live next fall, pale in comparison to Smuts, who’s trying to figure out what she’s doing post-graduation a year from now, and deciding where to start her “real life.” These things are scary, especially when one is confronted by just how naive they are.
While Smuts admitted she was scared, she still expressed a confidence in the fact that everything would be alright — and that utterly astonished me.
“I’m a pretty impulsive and spontaneous person,” Smuts said. “I can just kind of make a decision, and deal with the repercussions as they come.”
I am not impulsive or spontaneous — not even a little bit — and I’m fine with that. But I envied Smuts in this moment. While she had admitted that she was naive, and that there may be repercussions to her decisions, she still spoke with such confidence, such hope for the world in front of her, that she would find a way, that she would be happy. I’ve thought about this sentiment a lot, especially in the process of writing this piece. I still envy her for it.
While my conversation with Smuts was enlightening, I understood that my quest had not come to an end. While Shapiro suggested naivety was something to be used and improved upon, Smuts had shown me that naivety was natural, and that we couldn’t let it stop us from moving forward. This only complicated my idea of naivety. Was it a positive force, helping people improve, or was it something that hindered people, kept them stuck in the past?
I was pretty excited for the last interview, because I had accumulated my fair share of questions. It seemed to me that the person who would be most informed on naivety was the person going through the biggest change. It was time for me to talk to a senior.
When I was first asked to write the lede for The Statement’s Graduation Edition, I was — not going to lie — a little intimidated. I’m a freshman, and the irony of the situation did not fly over my head. As I dialed the phone number of LSA Senior, Josh Stemczynski, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how ridiculous the situation was. Here I was, a freshman, so naive in comparison, about to question someone four years my senior on how they were naive. I actually chuckled a little bit as I clicked the call button. I just hoped he’d be able to take me seriously.
Once Stemcynzski started speaking to me about his experience with naivety, I was instantly struck with familiarity. He said that the last period of his life he had considered himself naive was the start of his college career — when he had come in as a freshman, starry-eyed and curious, excited for everything to come. I couldn’t help but think back to that blonde, tan version of myself that had moved into my now-empty dorm room. That girl was dreaming of the college life her sister had lived and so, apparently, was the version of Stemcynzski that started out as a freshman.
“(Stemcynski’s older sister) probably most influenced what I thought (college) would be like,” Stemcynzski said.
What he said next also rang true with me: he said that while had expected this amazing freshman year, where he met new people and did something new everyday, he found that being a freshman was actually fairly difficult.
“Getting here, and not knowing anyone, it really blew me away how hard it actually was,” Stemcynszki said. “I was so naive about that.”
I thought back to the start of my freshman year — I was alone, had no friends besides my older sister, no connections, and I was far away from home. I watched my friends from high school lead their own lives on their own college campuses, I was jealous of what they got to do. I struggled to put myself out there. I struggled to find my place. I had never daydreamed about those feelings, never even expected them.
This sentiment astounded me for a moment. Being naive about what college, and especially freshman year, would actually be like ended up hurting me. I hadn’t expected freshman year to be so hard, and it had hit me harder because I hadn’t prepared for it. My whimsical, delightful little fantasy that I had created in my mind about being naive turned sour as I listened to Stemcnszki. I was reminded that being naive could hurt people, and that it had hurt me. I was angry. If I hadn’t been naive, freshman year would’ve been easier. I would’ve been prepared.
But then I kept talking to Stemcynszki, and he pointed out something I hadn’t noticed.
“There’s good naivety,” He said. “If someone were to say ‘He trusts people too much’…That sounds like a good problem.”
That brought a smile to my face. Because he was right. If Stemcynszki wasn’t a little bit naive about people, he’d be skeptical, untrusting, and how would he let people in? In a similar way, if I had been prepared for how hard the year was, I would’ve missed the profound happiness in the moments that seemed so amazing precisely because I hadn’t expected them. Stemcynszki demonstrated that there was good naivety, because sometimes the alternative means closing yourself off, and missing out.
It’s the end of the year, it’s graduation, which means all of us, from 18-year-old freshmen to 22-year-old seniors are entering a new phase, a new time in our lives. For some of us, this new chapter might not look so different; for others, it could look like an entirely unfamiliar path. But either way, this time of year is about change. It’s about looking forward to see what’s going to happen, and it’s about looking back to see what you’re going to miss.
I felt this way taking down the decorations in my dorm, staring at the empty walls, empty shelves, empty bed and seeing the dorm I moved into with wide, wistful eyes. Perhaps you’ve seen it too, staring at your empty apartment, or your empty house, your best friend’s empty room. Maybe, when you stand there you remember who you were when you moved in, and wish you could tell that person all of the things you know now, as if you could somehow make them less naive.
I’ve thought about it for a while now, and I don’t think I would tell that version of me anything anymore. I think that what Stemczynski said is true: sometimes, there is something good about being naive. For me, it made the start of my freshman year feel romantic and new, it made me optimistic. I may have been unprepared for some things, I may have gotten hurt, but all the while I was excited. I was so happy to be doing everything that I was doing, so passionate, so ready to put myself out there in the world.
Take that sentiment with you. You may be looking forward and feel afraid, you may be feeling a bit naive. But being naive can be an extraordinarily beautiful thing — it can mean that everything will surprise you, everything will interest you, everything will be new.
As you walk into the next phase of your life, whether that be moving out of your dorm or moving onto your first job, take pride in your naivety. It means you are excited. It means you are learning. It means that there is plenty of stuff left in the world to surprise you, and excite you.
And that, to me, is a beautiful thing.
Statement Correspondent Riley Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.