Inevitably, graduation is upon us and another group of Oliners will be ushered out and on their heels a new group, hopeful and eager, will be welcomed in. I feel so lucky that I’ve had the chance to get to know you all, and the three classes that graduated before me during my stint as a student here. I am fortunate to have had a family that accepted the fact I called infrequently, randomly, and on “college time” instead of normal time. I am grateful to the number of hours spent in camaraderie, finishing projects in the AC, Library, or Dorms. The levity that my friends brought to each day won’t soon be forgotten. The opportunity to NINJA a variety of classes was extremely impactful for me too.
As I prepare to leave, however, I’m asked often about whether I have any regrets – anything that I wished I had done while a student, or perhaps, that I wished I hadn’t done as a student.
The sheer volume of late-night snacks is a bit embarrassing. The number of allnighters was a bit more than I like to admit. I really wish I had studied away, or taken a leave of absence – for all the reasons you might expect (taking a break from Olin, seeing some of the world, learning a new language, getting more specialized technical depth in something, etc). I also wish I could have done more things – different clubs, different hobbies, different campuses, more traveling, etc. These are all mostly wistful thoughts though. Alternatively, I wish that I could have put more energy into the things that I did do.
But above all, I regret not being an outspoken advocate for the things I care most about. On sustainability, I wish I could have been involved with GrOW more, that I went to more talks, that I pursued the information I hungered for, that I was brave enough to have an opinion and express it openly.
On diversity, I wish that I could have made more people care and that I could have become a better amplifier for movements like BlackLivesMatter, for persons of color on our campus seeking to hold cultural conversations, and for the plethora of social events that happened outside our bubble across the United States during our time at Olin.
On sexual respect there is so much more that needs to be done at Olin that I wish I could have spent time doing. I wish I had the confidence to be a better bystander in light conversation that turns sexually inappropriate. I wish I had the audacity to demand more in terms of the response of the College to our Title IX procedures. I wish that I knew how to be a survivor because I’ve been struggling with victimhood since well before arriving to Olin. I wish I knew how to better support my sibling as their identity struggles to flourish in fear-soaked soil hundreds of miles away from me.
On mental health, I wish I had taken the time to encourage conversation about it on campus, and develop it for myself. I felt, and often still feel, that my time is best spent on others and not myself. Though I know logically that no sleep, that infrequent meals, that my sometimes crushing depression does not make me a better engineer – engineering is the only thing I know how to do. Imposter syndrome is rooted in my mind and I only allow it to flower. Times in which I consoled friends and peers with fears similar to my own and suggested they seek help, brought forward the hypocrite inside of me which is suspicious of those with even the best of intentions. Wavering in the gray zone of passively suicidal in the early years of my Olin career, I sought often to be alone and to pour every ounce of my strength into being busy. When people laugh about not seeing folks around campus too much, I wonder if those folks are intentionally hiding behind their work, like me. Though today I stand taller and I think happier, I regret not learning to love myself sooner.
As I prepare to graduate, I want to make sure that people know that we need, as a community, to take notice of our collective well-being. Mental health is not something that can be read off of a person’s face, but can only be felt through active compassion. That sexual respect can only become the norm if we accept that it happens here and that we can do something about it. That diversity at Olin starts with checking our own privilege. That sustainability at Olin can only happen if we care enough about it to impact our lifestyles.
I certainly leave with regrets, but I will have the rest of my life to work towards fulfillment, as I define it – and so will you.
My advice, though, for those still asking how to get through Olin without regrets: Don’t be afraid to offend, if you’re ready to receive criticism. Be open to reflecting with others. Take advantage of the opportunities to shape your own learning. Strive to take care of yourself and take pride in your hours of sleep, the number of meals you’ve eaten, and the hobbies that you spend time enjoying. Feel free to leave the campus for a semester, or two. Be yourself. And know that everyone wants you to succeed — and that you will.