Freshmen, wear clear safety goggles when entering your nightmare

To incoming freshmen, by now your orientation leaders and other folks you’ve met at Case Western Reserve University have probably told you how great it is here. They may have waxed eloquent on how “accepting” and “diverse” CWRU is. How we’re all in this together. The dining halls seem to serve decent meals and your dorm—sorry residence hall, my mistake—seems livable. Your classes seem workable and relevant. Rose-colored glasses? You’ve got rouged safety goggles, my friend.

Because the bloom wears off that rose. And it wears quickly. It quickly becomes apparent CWRU is more posturing than substance. The quality of the dining hall food slides markedly, but they swear nothing has changed. You can’t seem to find where, but more and more dust enters your dorm room. The “diverse,” “accepting” students around you seem to think nothing of their crass, often bigoted remarks. Your whole entire worth seems contingent on what your GPA is. What the hell happened? CWRU happened.

Add to this your classes. At first they seemed relevant and interesting. Then you went to around three weeks’ worth of lectures and found yourself wondering if you were even in the right lecture hall. What happened to that awesome-sounding syllabus? What chapter are we even on? How much homework and from which book does it come from? Why are none of the questions you are assigned the ones solved in the back of the textbook?

College, as we find out, is never what it claims to be. It’s grueling, soul-sucking and downright awful at times. You keep swearing it’s a nightmare and you’ll wake up soon. All your professors definitely did not just assign three midterm projects just now. Your dormmates definitely didn’t just make a racist joke and expect you to laugh. But this is it, this is CWRU.

So is there redemption? Is Babs right? Can you think beyond the possible? Is anything possible at CWRU? The answer depends very much on who you surround yourself with.

I started off at CWRU, much like you bright-eyed, dream-having folks, five years ago. I thought I’d made good friends because I met folks quickly and we seemed to get along. But it took me too long to realize a vital lesson. College is incredibly excruciating. I didn’t just need people around that were reasonably fun. I needed people around to support me and take me to task.

It may seem like meeting cool folks that like to play the same video games as you or the same sports, or whatever it is you’re into, will also be the ones that can help you through that third all-nighter trying to figure out your damn thermo homework. They may be, but think carefully. You will also need friends who can handle you crying and breaking down, because CWRU will do that you. You will need people who call you out when you are, in fact, a bigoted ass, because you will do that at some point. I did, and for a very long time no one called me out. Make sure to make friends with kids in your classes who understand material you don’t and vice-versa. Share studying and frustrations with them. Struggling together is more effective than scrambling on your own. Ask others for help.

CWRU has an odd culture. It becomes apparent soon enough after the endorphins of orientation wear off. Navigating it means finding not only the people to have around, but the academics, too. I made the tragic mistake of thinking STEM all the way. And it’s fine if that sustains you here, because it certainly can. But do not neglect your electives. Find courses that make it worthwhile to get out of bed, so you don’t sleep in all day and miss your classes because all your other courses suck. Try and schedule that class early, because a miserable start to the day in that baffling lecture hall is not usually a good motivator.

All of this leads me to the idea that college is often quite a struggle. But there are ways to make it worthwhile. Find decent folks who academically and personally fulfill your interests and are able to understand when you cry. Schedule classes that don’t make you groan just at the thought of them. Learn tricks like the best times to eat at the dining halls and when to take a break. Recognize that you’re worth more than your grades, that your personhood is not defined by how academically proficient you are.

So welcome to Case Western Reserve University, Class of 2019. It’s not going to be what you thought it would be. But that’s okay, because it can be something worthwhile that you need it to be.

Zak Khan doesn’t even go here anymore, but they have a lot of feelings and angry barking.