Senior Retrospective: Carolina Gustafson

I chose Vassar on an absolute gut-whim. Later in the process of deciding to apply early decision there was more detailed considerations in the form of a “Gilmore Girls”style pro-con list and a fateful visit with my father that sealed the deal (yes, Dad I am finally giving you the credit you deserve), but there was never any real doubt that this was where I was suppose to be. And sitting here, on a beautiful late-spring day a week before I am to graduate, eating cherries, by far my favorite pitted-fruit, and watching sweaty underclasspeople move out, I know my immediate instinct four years ago was right. Vassar and I were just meant to be. I have doubted our fate, like any good long-term relationship, many times in the last four years. Vassar has frustrated me, disappointed me, made me promises it has failed to keep. We have fought and I have doubted whether our relationship would survive throughout the years, but again and again I have come to realize that there are things in this world deeper than logic. The impulse decision by me at 18 to apply early decision to Vassar, to put all my eggs in this odd basket, was unheard of for me at the time, a girl who once sobbed so loudly over a Spanish final junior year that my mother threatened to lock me in my room and not let me take the test if I did not go to bed and let everyone get some sleep.

I was successful in high school but that was all I was in many ways. I was afraid and

I was lonely and I was on a treadmill going nowhere that I so desperately wanted to get off of. I recently decided to go back through and read the words I wrote in my “Why Vassar?” Application Essay. I talked about a desire to be surrounded by intelligent peers, an attraction to Vassar’s high percentage of women in the sciences, an appreciation for Vassar’s beautiful campus. Those are all true and then some, but those are not the reasons Vassar has changed me. Vassar was where I learned how to be a better, a more full, person. Vassar taught me the value of balance in life, not as an intellectual concept, but as a lived reality. In my first semester at Vassar I enrolled in elementary French to fulfill my language requirement. It was a yearlong course, five days a week, and I figured I could do that. That is until a week into the class when my professor called me into her office and, as nicely as possible, informed me that I should probably switch to Latin if I hoped to graduate. I am fairly sure I was the first person the history of the French department to have this suggested to them. I knew Latin would probably go no better though and so I slogged through an entire excruciating year of decimating the French language. If you need verification of how bad it truly was, just ask Kit Durr. I did pity-pass the class, but it was the first time I had tried (very hard in fact) at something and not done well. The amazing thing though was life moved on: I am both graduating from college and going to my first choice graduate school. I thought at 18 that I was going to Vassar as validation of all that I was good at; instead Vassar helped me to realize it is fine to be mediocre (or down right terrible) at some things. This past March, for reasons I do not wish to go into here, I convinced my best friend to

spend 36 hours on a Greyhound Bus to Atlanta, Georgia, for a three-day weekend away with me. I had decided I wanted to go because it was warmer and I have friends there and so we set out on our own telling no one our plans other than my mostly-reliable older brother.

The trip could have been an absolute disaster, but instead it turned out to be some of the best 60 hours of my life. For the first time in many years I was living in the moment, excepting that I only had three days away from the snow and my thesis and so I was going to make the most of them. And I did, I was happy just because life is good. At one point while drinking a fancy-pants drink with ground pepper in it and taking in Atlanta’s on-point-porch-game, a truly marvelous moment as you can likely imagine, my friend asked how I was doing. I considered it for a moment and responded, quite honestly, that while I was a six in life overall, I was a nine in that moment. And I was. I was surrounded by people who care about me. It was warm and beautiful and I had traveled 18-hours on a whim, something that only two years previously I would have been far to afraid to do. When I was 18 and graduating from high school I had high expectations for Vassar. But they were all the wrong expectations; I was mistaken in what I thought mattered. I now know that the things that make life good

are not found in the big moments. Things like walking my dachshund on a beautiful day, Thursday night dinners with my brother, watching my advisor explode with joy because I got into graduate school, meeting up with my dad every February to go to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, talking to my mom on the phone for hours and feeling so unconditionally loved, these things matter far more than any grade or award. I am so lucky to have loved and been loved so much in the last four years and I cannot express how grateful I am for that. There are a lot of things I am taking with me as I graduate from Vassar: a better ability to write and think broader, a deeper appreciation for learning for the sake of learning, a bachelors degree, but what I most hope to take with me is a greater appreciation for the important things in life, like finding joy in the simple stuff and not worrying so much about the future or the past. The last four years have shaped me in a number of ways, but mostly they have allowed me to become a better-developed and more content person. Thank yous all around to the countless people who got me here: Professors and administrators who became my colleagues and mentors, friends that pushed me to be a better person, and most of all to my parents, my brother, and my Vassar-found best friend who have loved me unconditionally as I figured it all out. I have learned so much in these last four years, but most of all, I have learned the value of committing myself to living a life that makes me happy. And I’ll admit, I’m pretty proud of that.

—Carolina Gustafson is a Science, Technology, and Society major from West Hartford, CT. She is the outgoing President of the Vassar Student Association and will be continuing on to the Yale School of Nursing in the fall.

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