I remember driving into Elon’s obnoxiously green, monochromatic campus and feeling overwhelmed by the thickness of its pollinated air. It was February and my first time in North Carolina, as I had never visited Elon prior to that curiously warm move-in day. My mother watched closely as I posed for my Phoenix Card photo. Unlike the majority of your friends, I liked my picture. It made me look small. And optimistic. 

We returned to the car a student and an empty nester, the both of us dreading the 400-mile separation waiting on the other side of a three-hour unpacking process. It was here that I experienced my first anxiety attack, not because of our imminent severance, but because I was not sure that I made the right decision.

As a spring admit, I started my Elon experience in early February. I moved into a spacious room on the first floor of Sloan, the Communications Living and Learning Community (LLC). I knew nothing about my roommate aside from his love of Maryland, as displayed by the large flag on our wall, and that he enjoyed 40 oz. beers, as displayed by the glass bottle of King Cobra in our trash can. I don’t remember much outside of that. Perhaps that’s a result of Elon’s lackluster transfer student orientation. Perhaps that’s a result of three years of excessive alcohol consumption. Either way, I don’t remember much about that first day. 

After a misty-eyed departure from my parents, I returned to my residence hall, unpacked the remainder of my clothes, and fell asleep to the bloodcurdling sound of women screaming in celebration of their sorority bids.

Elon was not my first-choice college. As the product of a New England preparatory school, I felt enormous pressure to attend a prestigious university. I sent my application to Elon with a stamp of inadequacy. They returned it with a waitlist letter. Unfortunately, that process of waiting for acceptance has yet to end. Though I have an established group of friends, allegiance with an incredible a cappella community and renewed sense of adequacy, I don’t bELONg. Elon opened its doors as far as the hinges allowed, but I couldn’t walk through. I didn’t fit.

I cried a lot that semester. My poor academic performance placed me on academic probation for the following year. And though I expressed an interest in transferring to a different school, my parents did not support the decision. For them, transferring was a financial gamble, one on which they did not have the resources to bet. My substandard grades did not help either. Instead of transferring, they implored me to create an experience out of the one Elon failed to provide me — and I will do the same to you, dear freshmen.

Don’t allow pop culture and poorly edited Facebook photos to determine your idea of college. The upcoming four years of your life may not be ideal  a reality some of you will face. This university may not be your first choice, but you have the opportunity to fall in love with its imperfections. That does not mean, however, you should ignore your intuition. Count the times you’ve cried in your bedroom. Challenge yourself to define happiness. How does Elon fit in with that definition? Prioritize your health over everything. Assess the divides that pervade Elon’s social scene, whether they derive from difference of color, socioeconomic status or fraternity/sorority placement. 

If your first experience at Elon is one riddled with anxiety and uncertainty like mine, perhaps you don’t bELONg. And that’s okay. The challenge is to find where you do belong. The result may surprise you.