Before I was a Wolverine, I was a Novi Jaguar. At seven years old I was an amateur hockey prodigy. Unusually agile for my age, I had big plans to take the NHL by storm. For eleven years I honed my craft. But as I grew, the dream of taking the ice as a Red Wing died. Today, my skates sit generally untouched in my bedroom closet. It’s funny; while everyone is quick to point out the new experiences we will have in college, no one tells us about what we’ll have to give up. In addition to the parties and late-night cram sessions in the Grad Library, college students are engaged in an internal juggling act requiring us to relinquish the children we were and embrace the adults we will become.

Lost in this gray area between the carefree world of child’s play and the heavy grind of the nine-to-five job, many college students are holding too tight to the past or running too eagerly to the future. Just glance down Packard any given Saturday and you’ll see a population of not-quite adults holding tight to the “the greatest four years of our lives.” The countless times that little cliché has been drilled into our heads by friends and family has left some unwilling to grow up.

But of course, there’s another side to this story. After any Saturday night on Packard, peak your head into the Law Library on Sunday morning. Speaking as someone who has toiled in the Law Library for 21 hours in a three-day span, I can tell you there’s another population of Wolverines eagerly racing toward the next mile marker of life. College is often pitched as the first step in what will become a long journey toward success. It also doesn’t help that this University produces overachievers like an assembly line. Consequently, many of us give up the present pleasures in hopes of a flourishing future — sacrificing the late Saturdays on Packard for the early Sundays in the stacks.

Ralph Williams, the renowned English Professor, extolled a similar idea to a room of incoming freshmen last year at a scholarship reception. Aware of the internal struggle we were all about to embark upon, Professor Williams left us with some somber words: “You will not find yourself here; you cannot find what does not yet exist. Instead, you will create yourself here.” These impactful words have proven to be more valuable than any late-night party or study session.

College is the ultimate balancing act. We are forced to leave behind childhood while embracing the next chapter. The shift from passive recipient of life to active contributor is tricky. As evidenced by any good party, it’s easier to live in the here and now than to explore what is to come in the future. But a balance must be found somewhere between enjoying the present and exploring the future.

Finding a balance between who we were and who we are to become is essential if we hope create our own identity. No matter how much I skate, I can no longer aspire to play in the NHL; no matter how much I study, I cannot make my degree come any sooner. The trick is to hold on to the important aspects of life that influence who we have been while at the same time investigating who we will become. We have to remember the lessons we’ve learned in the past, appreciate the joys of right now and actively search for what will fulfill us in the future.

I do my best to remember who I was. In fact, I still wear a hockey lace around my wrist. But until I wrote this article, I never really considered why this was. I have made peace with the fact that I won’t play in the NHL, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take some of my history with me into my future. Closing one door while opening another is hard. The secret to success in college isn’t throwing yourself completely behind your studies, nor is it losing yourself on Packard on Saturday nights. But don’t expect to stumble onto your future here — heed the words of an old English professor and write the next chapter yourself.

Tyler Jones can be reached at tylerlj@umich.edu.

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