At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I sat down at a sticky cafeteria table to write a letter to my senior-year self in a half-hour of mandatory self-reflection.
When I read the letter four years later, the most shocking thing was not how much I had grown and changed and matured, but just how much of my 14-year-old self remained.
On those pages, I accurately predicted which of my middle school friendships would survive and which new relationships would develop. I anticipated which clubs I would join and where I would spend my after-school hours.
In three separate places, I asked the older me whether or not she had a boyfriend, knowing full well that she probably would not. I did not.
And my estimation of my senior year GPA was accurate within an almost embarrassing 0.02 points.
“I am literally the same person,” I told the girl sitting next to me when I reached my signature at the bottom of the last page.
When I arrived at Yale, I decided to go through the same exercise, nostalgic for that sticky laminate and the feeling that I had something to say — about myself, to myself. After a night of orientation activities, I sat down at the desk designated as mine to scribble down some thoughts for the Caroline Sydney entering her senior year of college.
I left boys out of it (mostly). I didn’t try to make pointed predictions — I couldn’t; I had almost nothing on which to base them; free from the pressure to quantify my future, I could present my expectations more organically. There were no lists of extracurricular activities that night, no prophetic estimates of my GPA.
After a few pages, I got tired and went to bed, telling myself that I would add a little more the next day.
And then something strange happened. By the end of that next night, I felt like it would have been cheating to go back and add content to the letter. Like I had already changed in some way, or my perspective had already shifted. I couldn’t go back to that utter sense of not knowing.
There’s something weird about time in college. And I don’t mean Yale time — you were five minutes late to everything in high school too.
Time here has an altogether different quality to it. A, wait-that-was-this-morning-ness to it. An I-feel-like-I’ve-known-you-for-longer-ness to it. A how-could-I-possibly-plan-anything-two-weeks-in-advance-ness about it.
It could be the fact that the days aren’t broken into neat little blocks of classes the way that they were in high school. The “school” part of being in school floats in an agar of long lunches and improv performances and lit mag readings and late-night buttery runs.
Or this stretched-out-yet-sped-up sensibility could result from the feeling that I’m almost always either running to something or missing something — or both at the same time.
I can easily identify the ways this impacts my day-to-day behavior. I try to cram more in. I waste less time because I have so many more constructive things to do with it. I’ve changed my sleep schedule; I’m learning how to nap.
It’s much harder to put a finger on the way that this distortion is changing me as a person.
As a freshman in high school, I looked at the future as a series of goals to meet or specific accomplishments to accumulate. To a certain extent, I still think that way — my uncle loves to poke fun at my ten-year plans, vague as they are — but at this point, the next four years are not about accomplishing anything other than being here, being fully here.
Caroline Sydney is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.