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Picture Perfect

Posted by on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 in College Life, Commons, Freshman Life, Year in Review.

I don’t even know where to begin with this post. So let’s start with a story:

It was 5:30 AM on Saturday, May 2 – my last morning on Commons. As I was walking up the stairs, I looked out the window, and this is what I saw.

I swear this really happened.

You can’t make this stuff up. It really was that beautiful. Naturally, I went to post it to Facebook, alongside all of the other sentimental and heartfelt reflections about our freshman year that my peers had been posting all week. It seemed pretty appropriate – the perfect ending to the perfect first year at Vanderbilt University.

But then I thought about it a little bit more, and maybe it wasn’t so appropriate after all. See, to understand this story, you’ll have to know a little bit more about the morning that this photograph was supposed to be depicting.

The play-by-play of the “perfect last morning on Commons”

1:00 AM – Finally finish packing and check out of room

2:00 AM – Drag friend’s mini-fridge to the car to be brought to storage in the morning

3:00 AM – Order pizza and soda and eat in silence in friend’s dorm room because both of us are too tired to say anything

3:30 AM – Attempt to salvage precious sleep time, even though all mattress pads, sheets, pillows, and blankets have already been packed. Use a teddy bear and a pair of pajama pants as pillows.

5:30 AM – Wake up to alarm. Walk up the stairs. See pretty sight and take picture

6:00 AM – Bring last load of belongings to storage

7:30 AM – Sprint across campus back to Memorial

7:45 AM – Stuff last minute items into luggage and bring large amounts of trash to the dumpsters

8:10 AM – Get into cab for 9:00 flight

8:30 AM – Arrive at airport, check bags, and barrel through security

8:45 AM – Run across airport to get to gate

8:50 AM – Board flight

9:00 AM– Head home

The point of this story is not to illustrate that this is what daily life at Vanderbilt is going to be like, nor is it to point out that you can leave for your flight 50 minutes before it takes off and still get on the plane (I don’t recommend it). The point of this story is to tell you that life at Vanderbilt is a frantic, wonderful, messy, beautiful, irreplaceable life that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Perfect picture, perfect place. But not for the same reason.

You see, when I first learned about Vanderbilt University, I saw it a lot like that picture I took at 5:30 AM. It was pristine, whole-hearted, and unbelievably gorgeous. And truthfully, it still is. There are still days that I walk across campus and am in disbelief that I actually live on this campus, and days that I lie on the lawn outside Memorial and wonder if the sky is bluer than it is at home. Vanderbilt is no less beautiful than it was on the cover of the viewbook that appeared in my mailbox at the end of my sophomore year of high school. But what I’ve learned in my first year here is that there is a lot more going on behind the photographs of the ridiculously photogenic Kirkland Hall and the trademark autumn leaves.

I was one of those kids who had been looking forward to college since before I could remember. I imagined a large, sweeping campus where students played frisbee on the lawn and laid on blankets with their noses in books. I imagined common rooms where students gathered after a long day of classes to relax and catch up. I imagined dining halls filled with groups of friends, laughing as they carried their selections of food on lunch trays. The truth is, Vanderbilt has all of those things, but I’ve come to realize that those aren’t the important things.

When I committed to Vanderbilt 373 days ago, I didn’t just commit to Vanderbilt-the-place. I committed to moving across the country, to anchoring down at football games, to learning how to navigate Stevenson Center, to running across campus from event to event because there were just too many things I wanted to do that were all taking place at the same time, to weekly S’Memorials, to braving the Randwich line to get delicious sandwiches for lunch, to doing things that scared me (like rushing a sorority), to doing everything I could to help Mem House claim Commons Cup, to a brutal second semester finals week, to friends that will last a lifetime, and to much, much more. These are the real things; they are the things that make Vanderbilt special to me.

Literally this is just an empty room in one of our student centers, but I wish I was there right now.

But when I clicked the button to send in my deposit 373 days ago, I didn’t know any of this. All I knew that Vanderbilt was home to a pretty campus, top 20 academics, allegedly happy students, and other statistics that, while impressive, meant very little to me. It’s one thing to be headed to a school where the students are ranked the happiest students in the country, and a very different thing to have just finished your first year without a doubt in your mind that you are one of those students.

It’s pretty inconceivable to me now that there was ever a possibility that I wouldn’t attend Vanderbilt. Everything seems inevitable in hindsight, and Vanderbilt has become so far engrained in my identity that I’m not quite sure what Sami Without Vanderbilt would even look like. But today, I was cleaning out my room, and I came across my acceptance letters from other colleges. I took a moment to imagine what my life would be like had I chosen a different path, and the only thing I felt was a deep pit in my stomach. Because no matter what those other schools could offer me, not choosing Vanderbilt would mean a life in which I never knew my best friends, in which Commons meant nothing to me, and in which all of the wonderful, crazy, unbelievable memories from this year would cease to exist.

I love them so much I can barely look at this picture.

I don’t want to live in that kind of world, and luckily, I don’t have to. Time is flying by, perhaps a bit more quickly than I’d like, but I can’t wait to spend the next three years at my school, unearthing a bit more each day of what makes Vanderbilt more than just a pretty picture.

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