First-years do a lot of stupid things, and I’m certainly no exception.
During breakfast on the morning before my first day of classes, I set my toast on fire. I’m not talking about a blackened crust and a little wisp of smoke. The bread actually burst into flames.
As smoke crept out of the toaster and began to waft toward the ceiling in a foul-smelling cloud, a member of the kitchen staff took out the charred remains of my breakfast. Shaking her head (and probably resisting the urge to roll her eyes), she asked, “What did you put in there?” I could only stammer and think with an awful, sinking feeling that beginning my college career this way did not bode well. If I couldn’t manage to make toast without nearly burning Hewitt to the ground, how was I ever going to succeed in Barnard?
I later recalled one of the speakers at convocation mentioning that during her NSOP, a fellow first-year dropped her tray. The dishes shattered and her food splattered on the floor. Okay, I thought, at least setting your toast on fire isn’t as loud and conspicuous (unless, of course, it sets off the smoke alarm and burns Hewitt to the ground).
Feeling slightly less stupid, I sat down at a table with a bowl of cereal and thought of what Alexandra Styron, Barnard alumna and writer, told us about her first year during the Alumna Summer Reading Forum of NSOP week. Author of “All the Finest Girls” (the book each incoming Barnard student received over the summer), Styron didn’t know how to use her ID to get food from the dining hall. Too ashamed to ask anyone, she spent much of her first year consuming greasy egg sandwiches at a nearby diner.
Watching Styron speak onstage at the Diana Event Oval with her published book sitting in my lap served as a bizarre, yet wonderful contrast to the stories she shared with us. At first, I found it difficult to envision the professional, accomplished woman at the podium as a confused first-year student, eyes whizzing around Hewitt for a seat. But the discombobulated, awkward student in her past emerged and enabled Styron to connect with us, as if to say, “I know you’re feeling hopelessly overwhelmed and incompetent right now, but you’re going to be fine.” The poised, successful person talking to us was living proof that these slip-ups we make as first-years do not doom us to a college career of burnt breakfasts, dropped lunch trays, and greasy sandwiches.
The blunders we endure as new students will be a part of us, but they will not define our time here. Once the blush fades from our faces and the mess is cleaned up, these mistakes will actually have changed us for the better. They will help us be relatable to others and remain humble no matter how high we achieve. They will make us more sympathetic people and more understanding of others’ missteps. They will be nostalgically recalled at graduations, reunions, and convocations. Perhaps most importantly, they will inspire precocious op-eds.
Her advice to us regarding our first year at Barnard, among other things, was “don’t be an idiot.” While I agree that “don’t be an idiot” is generally advice worth heeding, I can’t help but think that a little bit of stupidity might be a good thing.
If one day I am on the other side of the podium addressing first-year students, I will know what story to tell to help them accept their inevitable gaffes. They may listen to my speech and see only the strong, beautiful Barnard woman that I am striving to become. But I sincerely hope that they will also see a stupid first-year who set her toast ablaze on her first day of college.
The author is a Barnard College first-year.