Let's face it: being a freshman is not easy. Between trying to find your niche in a completely new environment and coping with the physical and emotional separation from home, it's a wonder that (most) of the incoming students manage to keep their sanity.
You deal with the same questions all and every day: "Hi, what's your name? Where do you live? No, I mean which college. What are you thinking about majoring in?" Feels like a nonstop round of speed dating but without the promise of any action afterwards.
Even after all of the classes have been selected, the room has sufficiently been made home by the presence of dirty clothes and the pockets have been emptied because of the unwise decision to buy textbooks from the U-Store, you're still faced with one more dilemma. Upon entering the dining hall, the question stares you right in the face: "Who do I sit with?"
It may not be such a big deal to some, but I'm sure that my situation is both unique and shared. Once you leave high school, you think you've left behind all of the things that have come to be associated with it. These are usually immature in nature, like cliques, the he-said/she-said drama and the incessant adolescent gossip.
But for more than a few individuals, the people with whom they associated with prove to be the biggest comfort zone and burden. For the majority of my high school social life, I mainly stuck to my kind. Hanging with black people was more of an obligation than a choice, and although there were plenty of good times, it became more than obvious that we hung with each other solely for solidarity.
That solidarity carried over into my first couple of weeks at Princeton. I'm sure that more than a few of my black peers here have been guilty of the inability to restrain the need to acknowledge each other's presence with the salutatory nod of the head. That one gesture says a lot. "Hey, I'm glad to see somebody here like me! It's nice to know that I'm not alone."
Yet that notion of belonging too often leads to the stifling of the broad opportunities that Princeton avails us to operate outside the box. Sure, when you see that group of people who on the surface seem to be just like you, it's only natural that you feel the urge, desire and sometimes requirement to sit with them. Particularly in the case of a group of people in the minority, it can be a method of survival, and for many, it works. Living in a world in which your social grouping isn't fully understood by the mainstream is justification for relying on the safety net that your own people provide.
It is important to realize, however, that the need to feel comfortable shouldn't get in the way of learning about something different. The rich diversity here and the great number of backgrounds represented provide each student with the opportunity to experience another way of life, to hold compelling but unique conversations and to step outside the boundaries that our society has placed us in. It wasn't until I broke out of the mindset that commonality breeds comfort that I was able to make new friends on an individual level. I came to appreciate the richness of what they possessed on the inside, regardless of how they looked on the outside.
Perhaps even more exciting than discovering the differences that others possess are the similarities that you share. Sadly, I've had people tell me that they've never met anyone like me who likes Kelly Clarkson as much as they do. It's only when you reach out to someone that you come to realize that you're not much different from everyone else, and that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Finding your niche shouldn't be limited to sticking to what you know. Step out on a limb. The next time you step into the dining hall with tray in hand, resist the urge to look for what you know and let go every feeling of obligation. The dining hall is your smorgasbord of opportunities; make good use of what's offered while it's still fresh. Walter Griffin is a freshman from Philadelphia, Pa. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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