Freshman year of college

Emily McDermott is a senior as Saint Louis University studying Communication and Theology. She is passionate about people and storytelling, and hopes to work in either a non-profit field or in the media industry. She loves traveling, watching Parks and Recreation, coffee dates with friends, and enjoying her final months as a Billiken!

“You only take with you what you leave behind.” This phrase was introduced to me on my first day of high school eight years ago, mentioned intermittingly throughout my high school career and proudly proclaimed on graduation day. For four years, this cliché encouraged us to get involved, be students in and outside the classroom and make the most of any opportunity.

Coming into college, I was determined to “make my mark,” “leave a legacy”, and many other alliterative clichés. This time, though, was different. I wasn’t trying to build a resume. I wasn’t trying to be freshman class treasurer (a character-building, yet miserable defeat). I wanted to involve myself with organizations that would carry me through the rest of my life, not just through college essays.

Don’t get me wrong—high school extracurriculars are awesome, and I owe so much of who I am to my time in youth group or in C145 (the yearbook room). But for me, these experiences were all by chance. Intentionally involving myself in organizations that would not only enrich my experiences at SLU, but also my sense of self, turned out to be the best decision I made in college.

My advice to college freshmen: find people or organizations that can fulfill the three “S’s”: social, service, and spirituality. This looks different for everyone, but I can say with a full heart that without my involvement in these three categories, I would not have experienced such a well-rounded education outside the classroom.

Social: One of the greatest parts about college is the host of new people you will undoubtedly meet. This can be a bit overwhelming, so I encourage you to seek out a group to make a large pool smaller. For me, this involved joining a sorority where I found girls who shared my values and sense of humor. These women made my college experience so full of joy and are people I know will be lifelong friends.

Service: At my university, there is a huge emphasis on service. I decided to continue my involvement with Dance Marathon, an organization I joined in high school and then helped grow at SLU. Dance Marathon raises funds and awareness for sick children in local hospitals. It’s through this organization that I found a true sense of purpose and joy in serving others before myself. Dance Marathon has had a profound impact on my life, as will any service-based organization.

Spirituality: One of the reasons I chose SLU was for it’s Catholic affiliation. I wanted to make continuing my faith life into college a priority, and I found such community in the faith-sharing small group I joined freshman year. However, spirituality does not need to signify “religion” for everyone. Feed your soul with coffee dates with friends, walks in a nearby park or just taking time each day to step outside the busyness of college life and reflect.

As a freshman, you’re inundated choices. Take advantage of these opportunities. You’ll eventually shave away the activities that no longer interest you until you find the few where your passions truly lie. As a graduating senior, I now feel confident in understanding what it truly means to “take with you what you’ll leave behind.”

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