January is always a wonderful time of year, a time when we reminisce about all we have and have not achieved in the last 12 months. The first semester of the academic year is often full of surprises and, whether positive or negative, they are always enriching. Whether you’re a veteran fourth-year, confident, headstrong, and completely attuned to university life and all it throws at you, or a first year struggling with the new college lifestyle and high academic expectations, we can all benefit from the fresh start a new year brings.

However good or bad the past semester was, it is important to maintain a positive outlook. Anything can happen.

I began my first semester at the University of Toronto with a mixture of excitement and naivety. It was not until I spent well over 20 minutes lost in University College looking for my political science tutorial that I fully realized how new and unknown everything was.

My first phone bill served as a pitiless reminder of my position as a newcomer to Canada, not to mention the harsh detriments of 13 per cent tax. Convocation Hall also failed to boost my morale, as it was there amongst several hundred students that I realized how insignificant I could appear in a sea of hopeful academics. Now that I am more comfortable with my schedule, my long walks trying to find a classroom have become a rarity. To further emphasize my maturity as a post-secondary student, I have bravely moved to the second row of my lecture in Convocation Hall in order to avoid the echo that is so prominent in the back.

Maybe your first semester was everything you had hoped it would be. Perhaps you thrived academically, made some incredible friendships, and only hope that your remaining semesters turn out just like this one. Or maybe, this past semester was a mixture of ups and downs. To make the most of your university experience, you must open your eyes to all this campus and this city have to offer. That means not spending four years locked away on the top floor of Robarts Library stressing about school, but rather, try to break out of your routine.

I fully appreciate the importance of hard work and do not mean to encourage you to stray from your studies. I simply wish to emphasize the benefits of a well-rounded university experience when striving for success. I, like you, know what it feels like to work to the point of utter exhaustion. I know what a 2 am pre-exam panic attack feels like. I have seen the sun set upon my entrance to Robarts Library and seen it rise upon my exit.

While we may from time to time be forced to live with such misfortunes, I can confidently say that I have learned the importance of balance between academics, extracurricular activities, and a social life, in my effort to realize my potential. If you have not already done so, get involved in a club, intramural sports team, or another of the many groups that the University of Toronto has to offer, and make the most of your experiences here.

Lastly, if you’re struggling academically, or not opening yourself up to all that this university offers, I encourage you to think about your past. Why should we draw attention to the lifetime of work we are about to face instead of reflecting on everything that we have already accomplished? It may be fun to dwell on the future and the unknown, but I cannot put enough emphasis on the benefits of revisiting your past. I encourage all who are hoping for a good semester, even just for a brief moment, to forget about the monumental amount of work you may need to complete; instead think about what makes you who you are, how far you have come, and everything that you have already achieved. Every student reading this has a reason to feel optimistic. We have all been accepted into this institution and are all highly capable individuals. And amid this whirlwind of anxiety and stress over our futures and our GPA, we can’t forget about the most important thing of all: our sense of well-being.