My best experiences were when I got out of my comfort zone.

I think through all of third year, what kept me sane was dancing and learning how to dance. Make yourself happy. Do what makes you happy. I role play (RP), I do really silly dance moves and derp around my room for most of the day. They became my outlet and after a point, I stopped caring about other people’s opinions and just enjoyed what I did because they made me happy, which I think is the most important part of all this piece. That makes me happy and it took a long ass time to realize it, but when I did, things got immediately better. Revel in your hobbies, because sometimes, like RP has for me, you find opportunity in it. You meet new people, you learn new things and sometimes that’s all it takes. I thank dance for allowing me to see that and it can manifest for you in any random way.

Plus, don’t live in regret either. There were a lot of crossroads for me and I fell in, and still am in love with a good friend and I regret those things and they bug me, but soon I’ll be gone and these things will be just distant memories of a grand Grinnell experience with many highs, lows and Netflix binges thrown down the middle.

Grinnell isn’t something that can be defined So, we really need to stop that. It’s a weird place, sure, but not that weird. We come in with expectations of Grinnell, but these expectations don’t fit. It can seem like that when you’re all alone at Harris and just kind of trying to avoid the two people having sex on the bleacher but you have to remember that in a school of 1700+, not everyone’s drinking or smoking and there are people who are into the same interests as you.

Seriously, there’s a comic shop, there’s restaurants and there’s history that you’d never know until you go. There’s nature and bike paths and a seeming endlessness. There are hills and fields of endless skies, also stars. Take some time to check out the stars because sometimes there are no greater skies than an Iowa sky. Grinnell can’t be defined, it’s probably best to not let it define you. Go out into town. Watch a movie, take in all the resources before you because there’s always going to be something you can learn or do. There are ghost tours and nature and everything, but you aren’t going to see it if you pretend the town doesn’t exist. Seriously, my best experiences were when I got out of my comfort zone at Grinnell.

If that isn’t your scene, we’re only hour drives from various major towns that have their own excit- ing things going on. We have nice bars and cheap booze and Amish bread and everything you can imagine. Plus, the people! The people are generally really friendly (they’re just as nervous about you as you are about them, believe me). They also have interesting lives and interesting takes about everything because of all the experience they’ve had.

I went to Madison for a protest. I did a temp job fixing phones because I felt like it. Not to mention I found restaurants and beaten paths and enjoyed a small restaurant in Marengo, IA that had the best I ever had. Sure, I missed Miami things and eating gallo pintos and being Nicaraguan in a way, but I learned instead about what it is to enjoy Iowa Ham Balls and the novelty of a massive pig, and just the history of where we stand and all the cool alumni that are making themselves known in the world. Sure, that made me an overeager first year, but I was happy being over eager because it made that experience so magical. So, think about it. I think it can help a lot with so many peo- ple to just enjoy this place a little bit more. Explore it for a bit; make your own adventure. Sometimes that’s all that it takes. Especially when all the effort pays off.

It can be tricky and it can be hard, but I really do mean it. You have to put in the effort to make this place what you want it. It will only give as much as you feel like giving and there’s always opportunity. Catch a movie, play NERF, swing a foam sword. Do something as long as you enjoy it because at the end of the day, that’s what this whole experience is all about. You got four years in the prairie, enjoy it for what it is! You can’t let yourself be toxic to yourself either, especially when things in life get tough, and they will. My childhood dog died my first year over spring break and my sister developed a tumor in her kidney. In the middle of that, one of my best friends from home had his arm blown off in Afghanistan and all the guys I knew in his Platoon were killed in the attack that lost him his arm. They were good guys, so this entire event happening really did drive me through some despair.

It didn’t help that I received an ADHD diagnosis at the same time and it made me wonder if I was even cut out for college. I had to learn to persevere, learn what medi- cines would hurt me in the long run and which would help and I had to struggle. I had to struggle with depression, paranoia and anxiety all on account of my ADHD, along with failing grades and losing my major. It was tough and I don’t know how I made through it. I account it to luck, caffeine therapy and just keeping on because I knew I had to. It worked, I’m graduating but it still popped up at times in different ways, that loneliness and isolation. Then in March, my cousin, someone I saw as my sister and who was kind of the push-forward Angelica Pickles of my life passed away from an infection related to heroin abuse. I didn’t know how to properly handle this. I had handled death before, but never to this level. I found myself pushing back in classes and finding my work life and social life breaking down. I isolated myself, became depressed and started feeling horrible because “how dare I mourn for others, people are feeling this a lot worse than me.” It was a weird time, but I learned one thing from it. It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to feel loss.

You aren’t being a burden because your emotions exist, and sometimes it’s best to use those emotions to create. It’s what got me back into writing. It’s what got me back to creating, and honestly I’m never going to look back. This year was the toughest of my life so far, but I learned from it. I used to hold grudges. I held one against a lot of people for forgetting my birthday and I held one when I found out my grandma had been taken to the hospice and no one had bothered to tell me. I would hold onto anger after every bad thing that happened to me, and I constantly felt that I was doing everything alone. It always came back to what my uncle told me one day in Nicaragua though. I had the capabilities of remorse and love and compassion that was lost to the rest of my family due to the war, that I could ignore what I might think in the moment as slights to my person and understand that there are people who do care and you have to notice them. That’s what I did, and honestly, I’m better for it. I just had to work through a lot of loathing in the process.

And I think that’s something else to talk about too: in which self-loathing never solved anything, neither is doing something that is contrary to you or goes against who you are as a person. It kind of goes contradictory to the whole self-awareness thing, but really, be yourself. Enjoy being yourself and never cut yourself short or take that away. Self-loathing is only going to get in your way, and the same can be said with self-doubt. It’s hard, it’s really hard and I’m still learning this one, but I’ve noticed that half the stuff I dealt with came as a result of self-doubt, deprecation and pretty much just blaming myself for all of the worlds problems and made me ashamed sometimes of just being me and my personality and who I am, which is the worst thing you can really do to yourself and each other.

See, my Dad would tell me as a kid that the only thing that can never get taken away from you is your knowledge. When I was feeling worthless third year after I had to remember that constantly. It was a learning experience to be sure and it helped me when I was down.