Illustration by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle
Marhaba Week freshman year my roommates and I penned a bucket list detailing all we sought to achieve during our time here. Alongside sillier whims, we sellotaped serious dreams and desires to our walls in Sama Tower. Methodically we would tick them off as, for some of us, they came true.
It is now senior year, and this list is nowhere to be found. In its absence, I lack an easy way to evaluate my college achievements. I long to know, in the eyes of the girls we once were, if I have sufficiently embraced university. This soul-searching is practically NYUAD-mandated. Fellow seniors: If you haven’t already cross-checked with your class bulletin, reflections such as the one to come are obligatory* as part of a zero-credit graduation requirement. Sans-list, I am left with no choice but to embark on a more abstract evaluation of my time here, and so here goes.
I keep a diary near-religiously, so my reflection process feels more like archive research (familiar) than legitimate introspection (frightening). When I look back to the entries written in freshman year, my words feel forced, like I’m trying to spit out the sentences of a person I’d have preferred to be.
For me, high school was an extended exercise in pretending. By my graduation year, being someone other than myself was a skill I was not only well-versed in, but excelled at. Looking back, I think this talent explains my freshman year flirtation with a prospective Theater major declaration. I thought studying “the ahts” would allow me to master the talents required to maintain a Performative Cool that would Win Friends and Influence People. I couldn’t have been more naïve, and thankfully a freshman fall class with Rubén Polendo shook me hard from this foolishness.
I realize now that I didn’t want to be Making Theater so much as I wanted to make a new me. I thought that as a Theater major I could play characters indefinitely, gracefully detaching myself from the parts of my personality I was less comfortable embracing. I certainly didn’t want to be made vulnerable, and yet that, frighteningly enough, is exactly what class with Rubén entailed.
It’s probably pretty evident from the previous paragraph that I’m no longer a Theater major.
I abandoned that scheme as I started to shed my protective personality. This old safeguard didn’t shake easy. I had perfected a performative extroversion that had me approaching college with the irreverence of an extra in Animal House. I blame a media diet of Americana for this markedly false perception of university life; nobody told me togas went out post fall-of-Rome. My freshman year I held the conviction that the number of friends I'd make would be directly proportional to the number of shots I downed. I was further convinced that college was about finding love rather than finding myself, a person who, freshman year, I had zero desire to look for.
If I could tally myself now against that list — in all seriousness, does anyone have a copy? — I’m sure I’d measure up an objective failure. In my six-and-one-fourteenth semesters of college I have barely conquered a fraction of the dreams held by freshman me. I didn’t find my soulmate (or run Wadi Bih) but I did find other things. I found myself able to cry for the first time in front of someone I trusted, and later, the courage to be honest both with strangers and with myself. I found a camaraderie that comes with late nights spent breaking into the staff offices infamously equipped with Nespresso machines — sorry, Iván. I found a passion for social advocacy, for yerba mate and poetic meter. I have found a confidence in myself, which, despite other anxieties of senior year, marks me unafraid to leave this home.
*This requirement does not exist