Coming to Vassar was an impulsive decision for me. I was a 17-year-old sitting in India, with no real concept of what a liberal arts education was or what living in a small town in America would mean. Inexplicably, I still thought that coming all the way across the world for college was an impulse I should follow. This was fairly uncharacteristic of me: I had spent most of my life being extremely cautious, constantly weighing the pros and cons of every situation, always assessing my odds of success.
Now this was not necessarily a bad thing—in fact I was always told that being sensible was a strength. However, I had spent most of my adolescent life constantly nervous and extremely self-conscious. I was too scared of failure to try anything new, so I stuck very firmly to the things I knew I was good at. I appeared perfectly confident to my friends, parents and teachers, but I dealt with a number of insecurities that held me back. The whimsical girl who chose to come to Vassar was in there somewhere, but I never really let that part of me play a significant role in any important life decisions. Which is why this sudden choice to come to Vassar was so unexpectedly exhilarating, even if I didn’t entirely understand the magnitude of what I was doing.
I’d be lying if I said that I transformed the moment I set foot on Vassar’s campus. So far away from everything and everyone I knew and loved, I automatically gravitated towards things that seemed familiar and comforting. I wrote for The Miscellany News, I steered clear of any math classes and shunned the gender-neutral bathroom on my floor for the women’s bathroom in the Jewett basement. But there’s something about Vassar, something I cant quite name or even put my finger on that made me want to step out of my comfort zone, try different things and stop doubting myself so much. So I applied to be a student fellow. It never struck me until the night before my fellowees were set to arrive that I was going to advise eight students on how to navigate Vassar after spending a mere eight months in their country. But I learned to have more faith in myself and my impulses. I decided I wanted to work at the Writing Center, so I took the requisite class, applied for the position and got the job. Of course not all my impulsive decisions ended well. I had an unfortunate tryst with Psychology and had to drop the major my junior year. But making mistakes and making my peace with them was an equally important lesson because I was learning not to be so cripplingly afraid of failure.
As graduation draws closer, I realize that Vassar is the kind of place that doesn’t just allow you to push past your fears, Vassar almost requires that you do so. For me, Vassar has been a place that is both oddly familiar as well as somewhat alien. I have had to constantly adjust to things: time zones, accents, bland food, winters. But for the first time in my life, I have been in a place that has allowed me to grow into myself. Vassar has taught me to be more thoughtful, to be kinder, to be more open-minded. Vassar has been constantly challenging in every way, but it is also the place that has given me an almost reckless sense of confidence that I can rise to the challenge.
I know I said I don’t quite know what it is about Vassar that made me venture out of my comfort zone, but I do know that the friends I made here definitely played a huge part. These are friends who lent me a shoulder to cry on while sitting on a bench in the sculpture garden, the freshman year roommate who became my best friend and senior year housemate, the ones who threw me surprise birthday parties when they were dealing with difficult times of their own, the ones who ate at the Retreat long after their dining bucks were exhausted because I didn’t like the vegetarian options at the DC, my best friend who convinced me to run for a VSA exec position, fellowees who became friends and friends who convinced me to go streaking instead of finishing this retrospective on time. The people I’ve met here have taught me to value things that truly matter and have redefined my notions of both success and failure.
The last four years have changed me in countless ways. Some, like my ability to saunter into a gender-neutral bathroom with nonchalance are obvious. Others are so subtle that I often even surprise myself. But my biggest takeaway from my four years at Vassar has been to stop being so scared. I am not exactly Gryffindor-level fearless, but I tell myself I am getting there. I am less scared of the unexpected and more excited for the unknown. I leave Vassar with the friends and memories of a lifetime, but perhaps the most important thing Vassar has given me is this heady sense of adventure and excitement for what’s to come next.
—Shruti Manian is an International Studies major with a Correlate in History and is the outgoing VSA Vice President for Academics.