The author read his own Personal Statement.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve been to Michigan. Five years ago, I went through the state on my way home to New Jersey after protesting the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. I didn’t stop in Ann Arbor, but spent most of my time with an anarchist collective in Detroit, The Trumbullplex crew. We partied, then I continued on to my destination.

That trip was one of many adventures that punctuated my post-high school years. That is to say, I didn’t spend six years at community college before coming to University of Michigan — I traveled, worked, played and did … other things. But six years and two associate’s degrees later, I find myself back in the lower peninsula, this time for an extended stay.

I find that the return gives me an opportunity to reflect on some of the long-term changes in my life. Some are obvious: I am engaged to my partner of two years, Alex. Some changes, though, are a little more insidious. Something happened in the last three years, which were devoted primarily to excelling at community college — I became comfortable.

To my younger self, this state of affairs would have been antithetical. I had been restless and desultory and feared stagnation, which many people call contentment. But I suddenly had friends with whom I shared more than a few days of my life. Friends that I could go have a drink with after finals, instead of just drinking because it was that time of the day (noon).

The common term for this transformation is “growing up,” but I have to be honest — it’s really hard to feel like a grownup as a junior in college, regardless of my age. Every day, I am surrounded by people as much as six years my junior, whose sole intent is to find themselves, and I see them doing so, sometimes several times a day.

Meanwhile, my application to the University was predicated on the assumption that I had already done that. Not that I was naïve enough to assume that I had figured out exactly who I was and would always be, but I had worked hard to get where I was and I felt somewhat duty-bound to build on my successes.

With that in mind, I tackled my degree head-on, trusting the reserves of confidence I had built over the past few years to see me through to my bachelor’s. I took only three courses, to give myself room to acclimatize, and diversified my remaining time with undergraduate research, clubs and The Michigan Daily — by all accounts a well-balanced college lifestyle.

It took me a month and a half to realize my mistake: I hadn’t factored in that most crucial element of a college experience — socialization. It had been so many years since I’d had to make new friends that I didn’t just forget how, I forgot that I needed to try at all. Sure, I was amicable and friendly, but I somehow forgot that actual effort has to be made in order to connect with others.

With that understanding, I have started to reach out more, striking up the odd conversation, suggesting a study session here and there, and seeing where it leads — I even got invited to a party! (Not the kind that you could just walk into without knowing anyone.) Still, there is a consistency lacking. I can see most of Central Campus and the Hill neighborhood from the desk where I write, and I still feel disconnected; the athletic fields and south campus neighborhood forming a gulf between me and the crucible of relentless social interaction that would presumably define a “normal” college experience at one of the residence halls.

I know that such assumptions are pulled from pop culture and probably bear little resemblance to the collective reality of a majority-defined sense of “normalcy,” but I can’t help it, I want my “storybook” college experience — replete with silliness, feuding, hijinks, adventures and, most of all, friendship (really, the only piece that I wouldn’t mind leaving out at this point is heartbreak).

But it’s not just any friendship I want, I want the kind of friendship where you make plans and promises that you could never rationally keep. I want to get calls at 3 a.m., just because someone else can’t sleep and wants company; I want people to look at me, with my group of friends, and think one word — “deranged.”

My path through higher education could single-handedly define the “nontraditional” college experience, and it’s difficult to rationalize my accomplishments with everyone I see having their “normal” ones. I know that I have seen, done and accomplished things that some dream of — important, meaningful things — but I can’t shake this envy. All too soon, my peers will consist of professionals in situations where childish wistfulness is, at best, discouraged.

I know that I can’t force this. These are the types of relationships that take years to form, but at this point, I have less than two. I am scared that I will come away from my college experience unfulfilled. But don’t they say that admission is the first step towards recovery? I suppose the only thing left to do is go out and recover my sense of adventure. These years are still my opportunity to try new things; I just hope I can find the right people to share those experiences with.

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