College. The best four years of your life. That’s what everyone loves to tell you.
They say it’s when you feel your freest, when you are on your own for the first time in life and get to make your own decisions.
They tell you they would go back in an instant, and their four years were full of the happiest of memories and the best moments in their lives.
No one talks about or even seems to remember the stressful, anxiety riddled moments that come with coming into your own in a university setting.
For me, college was a cathartic experience, where I battled the worst in myself to have the “best” four years of life — the best of which came in my senior year, when a worldwide pandemic threatened to take away all I have been working toward.
Being a student at Penn State has defined me in more ways than I can even count, and the first thing this university gave me is a support system to deal with my mental health.
I remember my first week as a student at University Park living in Hartranft Hall. I didn’t eat much during that first week, the nerves of a full class schedule eating away at me.
I felt this way for the entirety of my freshman year — finding it difficult to adjust and not understanding where this problem was coming from.
I spent that first year throwing myself into every club, organization and extracurricular I could to keep myself busy and ignore the endless pit in my stomach.
Eventually, after pushing many people away and feeling at my loneliest, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment over spring break where I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Everything I was feeling was not directly rooted in the stress that comes with being a college student, but also a chemical imbalance in the brain restricting me from truly coming into my own.
I was put on medication, and four years later, I am still taking the same meds and have found they have allowed me to be the best of myself. My personality has grown and matured because of it.
Because of what I experienced that year, I was able to take on more as a student and find the free time I wasn’t letting myself have originally.
College for me was riddled with high highs and low lows.
I had amazing experiences, like working on the field in Beaver Stadium at my sophomore year White Out.
I also had devastating moments — losing my grandma junior year, sending myself back to the freshman year feeling of pushing others away and not living life to the fullest.
I have had ups and downs and days where I wanted to just quit, pack up and go back to my small hometown.
It was in those days where I realized I am at one of the best universities in our state surrounded by people who are going through many of the same experiences as myself. I was lucky enough to be one of the 40,000 students here, working toward a degree of my choosing. I was doing what I wanted to do with no outside pressure or influence to conform to hometown expectations.
I found and fell in love with the Bellisario College of Communications from afar: I had never toured Penn State before coming to school here and went with the gut feeling I had that this place would be my home.
And boy was I correct. I found my passion in being creative as a writer and producer. I challenged myself by becoming the leader of our student council as a sophomore and taking on internships and opportunities with Penn State Athletics.
I found happiness as a student of the College of Communications, finally doing exactly what I loved to do, writing a lot (thank you Daily Collegian) and being a leader and a person others can come to for help and guidance (thank you Centre County Report).
As a senior, looking back on my time as a student, I have the College of Communications to thank for the happiest moments of my time here.
The professors, the students and my best friends have impacted my life in a way I can never repay. The courses I have taken truly enriched my life and helped me find exactly what I want out of my life post-college — even if I wanted to pull my hair out over some assignments!
I have so many people to thank for helping me in my journey to finding myself, but it is best to begin with those who matter the most to me.
To my mom, thank you for always being the mom who truly listens to what her daughter is going through and encourages her to make her own decisions (even though sometimes it would have been easier to just tell me what to do). Without you being a phone call away for all of these years, I don’t know how I would have made it to graduation. I will never stop thanking you for making me feel safe in my own head.
To Nicolas, thank you for being the first person I call (after my mom) with good, bad or other news. Thank you for believing in me when I most definitely didn’t and for every single Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked pint we shared together during college. I am so proud of you and of us, and I can’t wait to see where we go next.
To my dad, thank you for working so hard at fixing our relationship these past four years. I am so thankful to be in the position we are today where I have two more adorable siblings (Jaxson and Mason) who I love with all my heart. I know I never make things easy, but I appreciate the help, love (and laundry money) you have provided me during college.
To Cam (and Casey), thank you for visiting me and sharing in the fun of being in college these past four years. I know both me or you will never admit it, but we need each other, and I am so lucky to have a brother like you who I can call whenever I just want to talk (or when I’m walking home from the bar at midnight). I’m so thankful you decided to play in a soccer tournament at Penn State all those years ago — without it I most definitely wouldn’t have come here.
To Tori, thank you for being the longest friend I have had and the person who I consider more than family at this point. While life has taught us both the good and bad of having a friend who is like a sister, I am so lucky to have gone through everything we have together. While we didn’t go to the same college, we will be in each other’s corners forever.
To Sommer and Kensie, thank you for being some of the best people I have come to know at Penn State and for always being there for me when I needed it most. From random nights out, to movie nights in, I can always count on you two to be the best friends I needed most.
To Madison, Cassie, Cassidy, Marissa and Cat, thank you for being the best roommates I could have ever hoped for. Moving into Calder 617, I was really unsure of trying out the whole roommate thing after freshman year, but it was the best decision I have ever made. We now share inside jokes, stories and outrageous incidents that could only be made by living with the best people.
To Keep Palm and Claire-y On, Do it for the Graham, MadMahn.COMM and Gar-Field and Friends, I knew from my first time on campus that THON was going to be a huge part of my life here. I am so thankful for my communications committees for becoming my lifelong friends, family and the people I loved spending time with in the BJC or otherwise. This organization holds such a special place in my heart, and I couldn’t be happier to have danced with all of you.
To AWSM, Comm StuCo and The Daily Collegian, thank you for helping me find my place in the College of Communications community. I am so lucky to have been part of organizations that are making a real impact on the lives of others. I have met so many amazing people because of these clubs, and I will never forget all of the advice and inspiration that came with the experience.
To my family, thank you for always being so supportive of my journey here and visiting whenever I needed it most. Your words of encouragement and time spent together make me the person I am today.
To my Penn State friends, thank you for giving me the happiest moments in my time here as a student and the moments that I will go on to talk about for the rest of my life.
To everyone else who has touched my life positively in my time as a student, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I have come a long, long way from being the anxious and scared freshman who had no idea what to do with my life, and I can say now that I am truly happy.
So happy, in fact, that yes, Penn State was the best four years of my life. I will look back at this time as a stronger, healthier and happier version of myself, which is all I could have hoped for in my time as a student.
Penn State was and always will be the place where I overcame the worst and darkest parts of myself to be who I am today. While that came with many stressful or anxious nights, I wouldn’t change any of it. It helped me realize who and what I needed in my life to feel satisfied.
I truly think when people say Penn State is in Happy Valley, they mean it wholeheartedly. I think you can find your happiness here in ways you never previously thought.
I never expected to come out of college this changed and matured as a person, but I think it’s because of the atmosphere in this town that I am who I am.
So, finally, thank you Penn State, for helping me find reasons to be happy and celebrate every success, no matter how small. You taught me what it means to accept help, to be open to new friends, family and experiences and to have that extra scoop of Death by Chocolate at the Creamery, because life truly is good and I don’t have to justify every single decision I make to anyone.
With love for Happy Valley forever, Caitlyn