Last month, I helped interview finalists for the Emory Scholars Program. In addition to running the interviews, we were tasked with giving a brief “Emory elevator pitch,” intended to entice these prospective students into accepting their admissions offers. I had my spiel down pat; at the end of each interview, I rattled off Emory’s various resources, highlighting the wide array of opportunities I’ve received here — the internships, the leadership positions, the research experiences. During one of the last interviews, however, a girl raised her hand after my little pitch.
“You talked about all the things you got to do at Emory,” she said. “But if you could tell your freshman self something to do differently, what would it be?”
Caught off-guard — I’d practiced the spiel, but not much else — I answered spontaneously and honestly.
“I’d tell her to slow down,” I said, surprising myself. The advice stood in stark contrast to my pitch, which emphasized the activities, the opportunities, the relentless drive. But, like most unprepared answers, mine was startlingly revealing.
We’ve been taught to treat our time at college like a race. We start off sprinting, accumulating bullet points on our resumes at a rapid-fire pace, always hunting for the next thing — the next job, the next position, the next award. We compare ourselves to our peers, who are always, inevitably, doing better than we are, and so we tell ourselves to do better, to be better. To work harder. To optimize ourselves, in true millennial/Gen Z fashion. After four years, we arrive, finally, at the finish line, sweating, panting. Exhausted.
In retrospect, I realize I could have treated my time here as a stroll instead of a race. A collaboration instead of a competition. When we amble through Lullwater with our friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon, we aren’t worried about finding our destination in the most time-efficient manner possible. Instead of panicking and trying to find our way out, we pace ourselves, enjoying the afternoon, the warmth, the company. Sometimes destinations are shrouded by trees, and detours are more interesting than linear progressions. Sometimes we need to get lost — to slow down, catch our breath and trust that, eventually, we’ll get where we need to go.
When I look back on my time at Emory, the best moments weren’t scoring that big internship or winning that next prize. The best moments were the little ones. The ordinary ones. The ones spent in Peet’s, where my friends and I promise to work but proceed to gleefully distract each other for hours. The ones spent in the Music and Media Library, putting the final touches on Model Minority Magazine, one of my proudest accomplishments at Emory. The ones spent in the apartment I’ve shared with my best friends for the past two years, eating takeout and drinking $6 Trader Joe’s wine under the twinkling glow of fairy lights. Talking and laughing and being.
College is long. It’s unpredictable. You won’t always know what you’re doing or where you’re going — and that’s okay. Take your time. Take a breath. Take care of yourself, and enjoy the little things along the way. Nothing captures my feelings about imminent graduation better than this quote from Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things”: “Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly, they become the bleached bones of a story.”
Namrata Verghese is from Houston, Texas, and served as co-editor-in-chief of The Emory Globe, co-founder of Model Minority Magazine, an IDEAS Fellow and a Fox Undergraduate Honors Fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry. In the fall, Verghese will pursue a master’s in English at the University of Cambridge under the Charles Elias Shepard Scholarship.