Fall Campus

Penn State students walk on campus enjoying the fall weather on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

Every year, The Daily Collegian’s editor-in-chief writes a column to the incoming freshman class as a part of the Collegian’s New Student Orientation content.

The columns typically follow similar themes — Get involved! Meet people! It might take a few weeks or months to find your place at Penn State, but you’ll get there.

These messages are important, don’t get me wrong. However, it would feel a bit disingenuous for me to urge you to jump right in and get involved at Penn State when we don’t even know what Penn State will look like in the fall.

Penn State has said it will make a decision regarding the fall 2020 semester by June 15. Universities across the country are beginning to announce their plans to move their semesters online or return to campus with heavy coronavirus precautions in place.

Amid the uncertainty, one thing is clear — we will not begin classes as usual come August.

It feels like things aren’t supposed to happen this way. But the reality is, things were always supposed to happen this way. There are no “what ifs” or “normal” timelines.

Everything that is meant to happen will happen, and everything that has happened was always meant to be. The fall semester will commence as it is meant to commence — and there’s little you or I can do to change the outcome, whatever that may be.

I know many of you have missed out on important life milestones these past few months — graduation, senior trips, the last day of school, prom, etc. I’m sure many of you are disappointed and frustrated — and equally disappointed and frustrated that your freshman year of college may not be what you pictured or hoped for.

Quarantine has taught me firsthand that we cannot control our circumstances — but we can, however, control how we act amid our circumstances.

Life — not just college — is ultimately about the choices we make with the cards we’re dealt.

I’ve hit some low points these past few months — I think many of us have. But in the lows, I have realized I need to grow and change.

College should be about growing and changing as a person. No one ever told me that, but I wish someone had.

It’s easy to take a reactionary approach to everything. It’s easy to do what makes you feel OK or comfortable, without challenging yourself.

It is extraordinarily difficult to go against the grain or offer someone kindness in a world that values fitting in and blocking people out with your headphones in. It's difficult to say "no" to instincts and insecurities. It’s difficult to do the right thing when it feels like everyone else is fine — happy, even — doing the wrong thing.

These choices are difficult, yes, but the difficult choices are too often the right ones to make.

It has taken me 20 years and a pandemic to fully realize that.

And so, class of 2024, no matter what this year brings, I hope you remember that you are not defined by it. You are defined by how you act and grow and change, whether you are in a season of happiness or loneliness or confusion, or anything in between.

I hope you learn how to love people, hold your tongue, make bold decisions and show compassion during a time full of heartbreak, loneliness and unrest. I’ll be learning, too.

Life might not be ideal right now, or in three months.

But it’s in difficult moments that we have the opportunity to become our best selves.

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