Many of our counselors share how their past and present students often "wow" them—whether it's via a hard-hitting or inspirational essay with an interesting perspective, or through a fun story that they share, years later, as they look back at their college experiences.
Every month, we're featuring stellar writing by some of our former students (we like to call them "Collegewise Alumni").
This month, we're featuring Maddy Boezinger, who shares her story about looking back at how far you’ve come as a student—and as a person—and remembering that your experiences—not your age—is what makes you who we are.
“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today.”
“Do you feel any older?”
This question never ceases to come up on birthdays, yet I feel like the answer is nearly always the same: “no.” There is this unrealistic social expectation that 12 months after your last birthday you should feel wiser, older, and more accomplished—and that the answer should be “yes.” The truth is, most of us wake up on the day of our birth and feel pretty much the same, and that isn’t weird or disappointing, it’s just normal.
For years, I’ve wondered how to articulate this birthday feeling, and it wasn’t until I read writer Sandra Cisneros’ short story about a girl on her birthday, “Eleven,” that I felt like someone genuinely captured the misunderstood phenomenon of age.
With each passing sentence, I felt more safe, more known, and more in-tune with humanity. I related to Rachel, the little birthday girl, and her conundrum with turning 11—only I just turned 20.
I woke up on my birthday, like Rachel, and experienced an expansive, explosive array of emotions that left me completely overwhelmed—filled with excitement and laughter, yet in the same moment, with desperation and tears.
I’d like to think this is something we’ve all felt on one birthday or another, and it’s something that connects us with the person to our left and the other to our right, as all of us ride the road of life, and calculate our mileage in birthdays.
Each passing mile, each consecutive birthday is really like Cisneros says:
“… like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one.”
And the reality is: some days you feel three-years-old and want to cry, others you feel five-years-old and are scared, and most days you think being older will solve this dilemma altogether.
Despite what society wants us to think, 365 days later, what really makes us older is the experiences had during that year, and not the single day on which we are a number greater.
This is why I now love being 20 (and why I loved being 19, and 18, and 17, and 16, and 15, and 14, and 13, and 12, and 11…). I begin each year with the prior year in my heart, mind, soul, and eyes. I can look to my growth during the prior year—the thickness of the growth ring—and appreciate my vast experiences.
I am still me and my life is still in progress, and knowing what I know—knowing how dark, and yet illuminating each birthday would be—I would experience them all again.