Find your inner Illini in college

By Steve Contorno

You have no clue who you are.

Yet.

In high school most of you were defined by what table you sat at during lunchtime. You thought you knew who you were by the cliques that classify most 17- and 18-year-olds. Brain, athlete, basket case, princess, criminal – high school was one big John Hughes movie. Your lifestyle was incarcerated by a single word and it defined you for the final years of adolescence.

Welcome to college.

The first day you arrive on campus, right about the time you pull your sheet over the not so extra-long twin bed, everything you think you know about yourself will be washed away. For most it will probably be liberating, and scary for some. You’ll feel naked, so you’ll go to one of the bookstores and clothe yourself in orange and blue apparel. You’ll drape yourself in Illini shirts, shorts, pants, hats and socks, hoping it will help you become part of the U of I community.

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    It’s not easy not having an identity, so everyone will try to cling to what makes them unique. You’ll be grouped in as either a suburbanite or downstater and if you’re from Illinois or some far off land. Then by major, which will change every time someone asks you the first few months. And again by whether or not you’ve gone Greek and which house you joined.

    But sooner or later, you’ll be left to define yourself. This isn’t high school. You won’t know everybody. You can kill the old you and resurrect yourself as whoever you want to be. You can join whatever clubs you want or get involved in whatever interests you. You won’t be alone. There will be dozens of other individuals who share the same quirky passions as you. If you have a secret love for fencing or catching butterflies or eating cheese, I guarantee there will be plenty of other people who meet twice a month to partake in the same indulgences. You can finally free your inner self and discover what your true calling is by signing up for the endless classes the University offers. By the end of the first semester, you probably won’t recognize the high schooler you once were.

    Of course, most of this will probably be a subconscious transformation you won’t fully grasp until you come home for summer. You’ll realize that you’d rather be back in the residence halls sitting around, doing nothing, with the people you met here instead of trying to pick things back up with old friends that seem like complete strangers. It’s no one’s fault; everyone has just changed so much after the first year, it’s hard to come back and act like there hasn’t been any time apart. You’ve changed. You’re becoming the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life and a huge part of that is losing the old you.

    College is the opportunity for you to find out who you really are. You’re on your own with nothing to fall back on except your own butt. The mistakes you make and the opportunities you miss will define you as much as your successes and accomplishments. And that’s not a bad thing. Half of finding out who you are is finding out who you are not.

    So whether you want to party every night (Wednesday is the new Thursday) or stay in and study toward your vocation (so much more than a job), moderation is your motto or “Cowabunga” is your life slogan, whether you like rock, punk, rap or Italian techno, you want to try to sky dive, stop euthanasia or Thai food, you’re a Cubs fan, Sox fan or hate baseball, whether you want to be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, journalist, teacher, botanist or Jedi master, be uniquely you. You have four years (give or take a semester or two or five) to discover who you want to be. Decide what it is you want to become and the University will help you get there in so many ways beyond the classroom.