By Ila Elstein

There I am, in the blink of an eye, standing on the stage in front of hundreds of people, saying goodbye to the place I have called home for the past four years. Nothing can compare to the emotions you get at that moment. You’ve made it; you have graduated high school.

I don’t think you truly appreciate the moment until it is over. Most seniors, including myself, just want to get out and go to college. But then, just like that, you come to college and you’re on your own. Sometimes you are hours and hours away from your friends and family; initially, you know no one. It can be lonely.

Fortunately, I was able to transition well. I made friends immediately; I had my volleyball family waiting for me when I got here. But I also know people who had a very rough time. They missed their families, their home, and their friends. And the transition took an emotional toll on them. Perhaps I never truly appreciated the moments and the memories I was making while in high school. Maybe I was looking forward to the future rather than focusing on the present.

For me, college has been a blessing compared to high school. College gives you an unfamiliar sense of freedom and independence. Here, I feel like an adult. I have to go to the grocery store and remember to get healthy food myself, go to church every Sunday, take care of myself when I am sick, manage my time and responsibilities, and so much more. Sure, I look forward to the days I do not have an 8 a.m. class, but it’s better than having to be at school at 7:30 a.m. every single day.

A college campus is where young adults getting a taste of the adult life. You live in your own little apartment (a dorm room) and have to learn how to live without your parents. You also have papers and exams on multiple chapters, something my high school never did. You’re pretty much tired all the time, stay up late studying five chapters for your exam in a week, all while having to know everything that is going on. You have to mentally prepare for your week.

Even during your free time, you’re strategizing: when you will have time to go to the cafeteria to eat, the best time to do laundry, when you can catch up with your friends, and—most importantly—when your homework is due. Unlike high school, professors do not necessarily remind you that your paper is due or when you have a test; they expect you to look at your syllabus and know what is going on. We are college students, are we not?

Along with all of this, student-athletes also have to balance a sport. Some weeks, my team has to travel to a school four hours away, and I have to get any upcoming homework done and make up everything I missed in class. On top of that, some days I won’t be back until 2 a.m. and still have to go to my 8 a.m. class the next morning.

In a nutshell, for me the challenge of college has been learning when and where everything is and how to fit it all in. I have only been here for a few months, but I can already appreciate how different it is from high school.

College has already been an incredible experience. Meeting new people from all over the world has been moving, especially getting to hear people’s stories and their pasts. Just seeing how far some people have come being at this school and how close people grow to God here is extremely exciting for me and for my future here at Montreat.