academics advice

Finding Yourself in College: Reflections of a Senior

10:55:00 AMCatherine Beigel

I’ve been told college is when you find yourself.

Graduation is 31 days away (yes, I am counting). I’m almost to the finish line. Do I know who I am? 

Reflecting on the past several years I’ve spent sitting in a desk listening to lectures, writing papers, doing reading (most of the time), making friends, losing friends, falling in and out of love, and learning to do my own laundry, I have found there are many nuggets of knowledge I could share. Today, I just want to share one.

One of the most formative decisions I made was dropping out of college after my freshman year. Yes, I was a college dropout. Yes, I love academics now, and I love what I study. But I wasn’t always that way.

My freshman year I hated going to class. I had some good friends and some mediocre friends. Day to day I wondered if this was what college was really like.  I wondered why I didn’t like it very much. I was living, but I wasn’t alive. Rather than finding myself I found what I wasn’t.

I didn’t know who I was or what I liked, so the next best decision was to take a step back and do a gap year.  It was the best decision I made.

I served for 9 months with a missionary organization called NET. Placing eight-thirteen 18-28 year-olds on a team, each with one backpack and one suitcase, NET’s mission is to challenge young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the Church. It’s a minimalistic system, which enabled the missionaries to lose themselves in giving Christ to the teens of America.

Paradoxically, I found in losing myself, I found myself.

If you haven’t had an experience similar to this, you might think I’m crazy. You might think you already know who you are. I’m telling you, you have no idea. In fact, the things which you probably associate yourself with, don’t even begin to scratch the surface of who you are.

This paradox is one which I’ve always understood as paradoxical and left it at that, but recently I’ve been wondering why this phenomenon occurred. I’ve noticed that in discovering myself through an act of self-gift, I cannot leave that experience in the past. It is one which I must carry forward each and every day. I cannot give of myself today and fail to give of myself tomorrow. Knowledge of my identity is not static, it is dynamic. Each moment is a continuum of penetration into the depth of my individual being through each act of self-gift.

Clarke wrote an essay called Person and Being in which he classifies this as the dyadic structure of the person (dyadic meaning two-fold) (3). The human person is dyadic because he or she does not exist in isolation. I am myself, but I only understand and come to know myself through stepping outside of myself. It’s not that who I am necessarily changes (although perhaps it does, we just don’t have time to talk about that today). But in self-gift I know myself in deeper clarity.

You don’t have to take a gap-year to come to this self-knowledge, although I found it was easier to do when I took a year and devoted myself to the project entirely. I couldn’t cease to give of myself after my gap-year was finished. I had to continually pursue daily opportunities of self-gift. 

I don’t mean to imply that self-gift is easy. Waking up in the morning, I need to make the choice to conquer what is selfishness in me. If I don’t make that choice, I still make it through the day. However, did I really live that day? Was I alive, acting from my who I am as Catherine? In making a habit of self-gift, I choose to actualize my individuality. Through gift, I become radically more myself.  

You have access to those daily opportunities as well. What are those opportunities? Take the time to view your roommate, the cafeteria worker, your teacher as a human person. Actively attempt to recognize their personhood. In that recognition, treat them as such. Use eye contact. Speak politely. Listen. There is a depth to the lunch lady beyond dumping a scoop of potatoes on your plate. Taking that step outside of yourself to encounter the depth of personhood in another will in effect cause you to know your own depths more clearly. Give it a try. Let me know how it goes. Begin the journey to self-discovery. Like I said in the beginning, I still don’t know myself, but I’m working to uncover that each and every day, in college and beyond. 


(1) Image one
(2) Image Two; Personal Photo
(3) W. Norris Clarke, S.J.  Person and Being. Pg. 42
(4) Image Three; Corynne Olivia Photography 
(5) Image Four

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