A Dissertation on the First Year at UNC.

It is as though time is surpassed with sheer speed once college starts. Apparently, “it’s all downhill from here” – at least that’s what they say.

Honestly, I don’t really know how to sum it all up in one cohesive thought process, so I extend my sincerest condolences for this not being cohesive, nonetheless chronological. I was actually kind of hoping I would get around to writing this while I was still in Chapel Hill, but to my dismay the weather was terrible and rainy and just not pleasant – definitely not writing weather for this subject. I hated leaving Chapel Hill in such a dismal state, but it had to be done. Now, here I am at 12:53am writing this in a Holiday Inn hotel room in Washington, DC with the lull of Law and Order and trains coinciding with my most recent free Coldplay download. Lovely.

Buckle your seatbelts because here we go – a tumultuous rundown of my first year at UNC.

I made my first C this year – two, actually – in the same semester. I know, it really can’t be that big of a deal since it’s college. It’s supposed to be more difficult, right? I mean, of course it is, it’s COLLEGE – and not just ANY college, my friends, but THE University of North Carolina. I’m not going to lie, but that’s a big deal. Sometimes I’m still surprised that I am blessed enough to even be attending such a wonderful institution of higher learning. Sometimes I just don’t feel worthy. Regardless of what I feel, though, I know absolutely positively that UNC Chapel Hill is where I belong right now in my life and it’s where God needs me to be, so I am just living the dream right now, in a sense. I digress.

So even though college might be harder and making a C isn’t the end of the world, I kind of felt like it was. If you know me, a C is practically failing, and people, Allison Rae Stewart fails to fail. It was the first time in my whole life that I felt like I got a grade that I did not deserve. I worked so hard, studied so much, talked to professors and TAs, went to review sessions, read the book(s), did the practice tests, altered study methods, reviewed previous tests – I thought I did everything I needed to and more to do better, but I kept feeling like I was coming up short since my grades weren’t reflecting my time and dedication.

What an awful feeling.

Again, realizing that making the letter grade of a C in college courses is not the end of the world, it did lead to some bigger issues that had lain dormant within. I will openly admit to comparing myself to other peers, and let me be the first to tell you how much that SUCKED. I know that isn’t the most politically correct thing to say, but that is truly the best phrase to encapsulate the emotion I was feeling. I spent many cell phone minutes talking to my mom or dad or my best friends away from me about how I felt like I wasn’t measuring up. I spent quite a few nights after my roommate fell asleep crying silently in moments of seeming defeat. I hit a real low emotionally and the only person that could ease my internal doubts was John Mayer.

I couldn’t stop checking Student Central for my grades and final GPA for the semester. It was like an addiction. I have never in my life been so concerned about numbers on a scale from 1.0-4.0 before – I felt myself slowly evolving into one of those pretentious UNC students that only cares about her GPA. Sanchez warned me about those types. I needed to escape that unbecoming and unfitting mold, so I did. I came to terms with a 3.175. It really isn’t that terrible and it really could be much worse. Heck, I need a 2.5 to get into the School of Education – needless to say, I plan on staying well above that so that the children of America can have a smart teacher that they are proud of in a few more years. I came to terms with working hard and not getting what is necessarily deserved, because hey, that’s life, isn’t it? I shifted focus to the fall, and I am incredibly thrilled as to what that semester holds for me not only academically, but also in every way possible.

Okay, that was the worst part of my first year – isn’t that just stellar news?! Now we can move onto the feel good fun stuff that I know you all REALLY want to hear about. 🙂

The transition from high school to college felt almost seamless. I went from a mundane scholastic schedule of four-ninety minute classes starting at 7:30am to my first class on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 12:30pm and my Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes being completed by noon. I went from terrible cafeteria food to less terrible cafeteria food, and with more options! I mean really, who can turn down the glorious possibility of cereal for all meals?! No one. I love my family, and it was a bittersweet moment when they left after move in, but I felt so excited as to where I was going with life. I still am excited about where I am going with my life, but I think things are a little more clear now.

A perfect example: I no longer have to wonder what I am going to do with the rest of my life. Praise the LORD for University Career Services, I will shout that from the highest mountaintops and the deepest valleys. I took that Strong Inventory Test, met with Miss Vergie Taylor (God bless her), and pretty much figured out that I am destined to be a teacher with my number one interest being Teaching/Education and four out of ten occupational results lying within the teaching field.

Vergie Taylor had never seen results like mine in her thirty or so years of working with UNC’s Career Services program. She said it was a God thing – I like to think that she was right.

I am going to be an elementary school teacher. First or second grade preferably, but I will willingly and happily go wherever I am needed. The more I think about it, the more I realize how important teaching and education really is to me. I am so fortunate to have had the education I have received thus far in my life, and I am so blessed to have had so many memorable, inspirational, and challenging teachers, and I think and feel and know in my heart and mind that every child deserves that. Education is such a powerful tool that can be given to the youth of the nation, and I pray that I go into this profession and can change lives and teach things that will help children both inside and outside of the classroom. I want to see children succeed and be prosperous in their endeavors, and I want to help children achieve all they want and more – every child deserves to dream, and I don’t want to see any one of them be hindered of that right.

I’m nineteen years old and I still have dreams of venturing to paleontology excavations in Argentinean Patagonia or meandering around the South American rain forests photographing exotic animals with my friend Sathya. Dreams are and should be boundless and limitless.

Also, I would really like to have an awesome classroom with cool Mac appliances and colorful posters and outrageously fascinating artifacts from personal adventures to places like Egypt. I want children to enjoy learning and have fun doing it. I want to be one of those teachers that kids never forget, that they come back and hug in the hallways and aren’t ashamed of that.

I would also like to state that when I become a teacher, I plan on brainwashing every single one of my students into becoming die hard UNC fans. You all have been warned.

Speaking of die hard UNC fans, I would like to remind all those who are reading this that the Tarheels are indeed FIVE TIME NATIONAL CHAMPIONS. Yes, I rushed Franklin Street. I knew you were asking yourself that, don’t worry. It was, in a phrase, quite the experience. I have never seen that many people in one place packed together so tightly in my whole life (with maybe the exception of Halloween, which was a pretty neat experience itself but it cannot top this). I literally watched people climb up a telephone pole and rip down two street signs. AWESOME!

Basketball games were such a rush. The people, the Dean Dome, the players, the atmosphere — everything, contagious. I have to say that during basketball season was truly the only time I legitimately thanked God for being put in Hinton James. That dorm, bless it, is so old and so far away from campus life it is ridiculous. I literally was walking at least two miles every single day I had class, one mile up to campus, and one mile back. Even though it was tiring, it got me in pretty good shape (my Lifetime Fitness class does not get credit for that). Honestly, I kind of think being in Hinton James adds to that “freshman experience” so many people talk about. Hey, it built some character.

Did I mention the dorm was infested with asbestos?

Eighth floor of Hinton James had its perks though (aside from being a hop, skip, and a jump away from basketball games), I will admit. When the weather was warm and the sun would set, it was time to break out the guitar and just play and be content. My ninth floor groupies would emerge from their respective suite and I would just play and play and play with reckless abandon; granted, my fingers probably hurt the following day, but it was naturally well worth it. The view wasn’t always the best since we merely looked out to the hospital area, but sometimes it was just nice.

School spirit is just absolutely breathtaking at UNC – total upgrade from Robinson. It warms my heart to walk around on game day and see people donning that beautiful Carolina blue. It’s everywhere. The alma mater’s prolific lyric of “Go to hell, Duke!” resounds in the stadiums. Chants can still be heard after the fans are gone and the seats are empty. The song “Jump Around” has a whole new meaning (thanks, Dynasty team). A sense of pride sweeps the campus, regardless of whether or not it’s game day, and it’s so refreshing being at a school where people are wanting to learn and just wanting to be a part of the community. There is always something to do or someone to see – I think it’s legitimately impossible to be bored at Carolina. I love that.

UNC Dance Marathon was a pretty awesome example of school spirit on and off campus. I was part of the Outreach Committee for the Marathon and I am privileged to say I was part of something so spectacular. $394,278.94 was raised in order to aid sick children through UNC Children’s Hospital. Praise God! It was pretty hardcore dancing for twenty-four grueling hours (I had to leave after fourteen due to another commitment), but it was well worth it. I met some pretty great people working with DM, and I plan on doing that again this upcoming school year while I help out Hogan with his Student Body President campaign.

You know, I remember being really excited about getting to school and meeting new boys. Oh how I wanted to meet new boys that were NOT from Concord, North Carolina and who did NOT like Nascar and the “slutty lushes” of the lower classes. I wanted to find a cute boy with good teeth and good morals – is that too much to ask!? Answer: I think not.

I searched…and searched…and desperately searched for a boy that fit my top notch criteria. I met many new boys, and many of those new boys are some of my closest friends now, and I cherish them dearly, but I wasn’t looking for new friends, I was looking for a guy that was boyfriend material. You know the type – UNC fan, tall, cute, moralistic, interesting, smart, funny, musical, etc. I met a boy like that. He was perfect. Actually, he was too perfect, so I realized I needed to get my head out of those clouds and start getting real.

I started hanging out and talking with more guys, trying to see what I liked and what I didn’t like. That was kind of fun, actually. Got that first college kiss and thought maybe something would work out with this other guy, but it didn’t. It was definitely my fault for having too great of a conscious and being far too concerned with his feelings than my own. What a dilemma, I know.

After all the searching and all the frustration, I found this guy who just so happens to be a pretty darn good match, and I think others would agree. Ironically enough, he’s from Concord. Fortunately enough, he dislikes Nascar and never went for those younger girls.

James and I have been dating for a few months now, and I have to say I’m very happy with that. I didn’t know that a boy could make me so happy, really. I always fear that he’s going to get tired of me or get bored of me, but he hasn’t gotten bored of me since December when things started romantically escalating, so I think my odds are pretty good. I love that boy and I love that I can say that. It’s really nice having him around and I am so grateful to have him in my life. It was most certainly worth dating with the distance for three months. I really think it helped make the relationship stronger, and I am so glad for that. I am also lucky enough to say that he will be joining me at Carolina, and I can’t wait for this fall. I look forward to being stuck with this boy for a good while, so I hope he’s okay with that.

This past year was kind of a big deal, setting aside the fact that UNC won a fifth National Championship (not trying to name drop that again, really). We beat Duke twice (more Franklin Street rushing!), both home and away, and the first African-American president was elected (even MORE Franklin Street rushing!). What a monumental experience watching President Barack Obama win the election. I feel honored to have gotten the opportunity to vote this year, and I just think the whole campaign spirit caught fire on campus. Inauguration day came for President Obama, and on that chilly winter day of January 20, something truly incredible happened.

It snowed…

…legitimately…

…in North Carolina.

Hence the creation of SNOBAMA DAY! The arboretum was filled with snowball fights and snowmen. Classes weren’t canceled even though State and Duke didn’t have class — UNC is just very serious and considerate, caring so much about the education of their students and whatnot. Everything looked so beautiful and carefully crystallized, like a postcard.

Snow and Obama. What a strangely delightful pairing.

Even with all of this chaos ensuing, one of the hardest things for me to get past was this mental block about Jason. It was a lot harder at the beginning of the year, but by the end I think I came to find more peace with it instead. Everytime I saw that mascot I thought of him, and when his nephew asked me twenty questions about why Uncle Jason was sharing his ram costume, I could only reflect on how much of an impact he has had even beyond the campus. I started going to a church called The Summit, which is in Durham (definitely worth the trip from Chapel Hill), and I just knew why he loved it there. Not just the pastor JD and his messages, not just the people — Jason felt God there in that place. I feel God there in that place. That same mentality even helps me understand why he fell in love with UNC — sometimes even just walking to class or sitting in the quad, I could just feel him with me somehow. I think one of the moments I felt him the most was when I went to a show at Cat’s Cradle, where his band 9pm Traffic would play. I walked into that building, got my hand stamped, and stepped into another realm of Chapel Hill. I looked at the stage and saw him there singing instead of Dan Layus of Augustana. Even though it isn’t always the easiest thing, I really enjoy feeling his presence with me around campus, and I know that he’s always got my back, no matter what.

Wow. I am no longer a freshman, nor will I be again. Isn’t it crazy how the time really does fly? Gosh, I feel so old saying that, but it really is the truth. I definitely feel like I grew up more this year – a whole new level of maturity I didn’t even know existed. I don’t feel any different, but I do know that I feel something. I like feeling that something within, and I hope that I continue to feel something that pushes me to be better in everything and beckons me to be the best person I can be at all times.

This year’s maturing stage was elaborately set. I have learned to not procrastinate as often (it really isn’t as easy as it is in high school), to bring lots of pictures to put up around the dorm room, and to attend every sporting event possible. I have learned to put my arms around strangers in library raves at exam time and belt the alma mater. I have learned to perfect apple crisp and chocolate chip cookies, as well as other baked goods. I have learned that I don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA to be happy. I have learned that volunteering for an hour at the children’s hospital is worth every minute. I have learned that I probably need my inhaler next time I rush Franklin. I have learned that meal gatherings or coffee dates with friends are crucial to one’s sanity. I have continued my learning to love, and plan on continuing that for as long as I am granted passage on this earth.

I’m still a work in progress, and I’m content with that — the next few years at Carolina will assist in straightening that out. The ups and downs were all worth the smiles and tears they evoked, and I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about my freshman year at UNC.

Hopefully you, the reader, can excuse my ridiculously jumbled thoughts. I pray that your proverbial seatbelt held you close as you read of a mere glimpse into the last nine months of my life at college.

Two hours and twenty-one minutes later, that dull lullaby of the television and the train tracks no longer vie for my attention, but rather I can feel the cool air from the air conditioning unit brush my skin while Coldplay still resounds from my headphones while I continue to reflect – what a stellar first year experience.

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