“You won’t get good grades.”

“Your mark will drop by at least 10% for sure.”

“You won’t sleep.”

“You’ll get fat.”

An enthusiastic, sporty, eager-to-try-everything me entered university with dreams of wild success and a mind that would not stop thinking. So what if I wanted to cure cancer as an undergrad? Maybe there were others who also secretly enjoyed solving trig identities while their peers moaned and complained.

Unfortunately, I also came to university with excuses that would allow the introvert me to stay within the high walls I had caged it in, stampeding over my first-year bucket list, confining me to the 9 x 12 feet enclosure I called my room. Stacks of textbooks lined the walls, papers with complicated words and diagrams covered the carpet, and a mess of school supplies and clothes were piled up where my bed used to be. I took my blessed four-hour midnight naps on whatever empty surface I could find in that enclosure.

That was my first year. It certainly did not have to be mine, but it was. I thought it was normal. It was what made me feel included.

Wherever I went, people talked of disappointing first-year academic experiences. I entered my first term of university fully determined to go beyond what everyone else was doing. I failed.

In high school, tests were a habit. I studied, took the test, got my grade, and moved on. In university, I entered my first CHM110 midterm knowing I would fail. I loved chemistry, but as I talked to upper years, they told me that the professor would fail everyone.

So I thought, what is the point of trying? Two days before the test, I started studying. With my feet on my table and pen between my teeth, I opened my notes. My first lecture notes screamed, “MEMORIZE THE FIRST 30 FREAKIN’ ELEMENTS.” So I did. I memorized the periodic table, practiced lecture examples, yelled at anyone who entered my room, and drank three cans of pop. On Monday morning, I showed up outside the exam building with a double-double in one hand, while the other made a clenched fist.

[pullquote-default]Wherever I went, people talked of disappointing first-year academic experiences. I entered my first term of university fully determined to go beyond what everyone else was doing. I failed.[/pullquote-default]

I sat down between the guy who always had his hand up in class and the girl who knew everything. I opened the test paper and saw — to my relief — the empty set of blocks in which I had to fill in elements. I flipped the page to another question and I blanked out. I continued flipping to the end of the booklet and raised my hands to my temples. I knew nothing. I turned back to page one.

Elements? The first is hydrogen. Nitrogen comes before oxygen. Does it? Wait. But then, where’s boron? My mind forgot it ever knew chemistry, and I scribbled down whatever related words that I could muster. I barely passed.

Test two, they said, would kill everyone. I couldn’t afford that. If test one had me crying, this next one would surely mean a failed course. I refused to believe it. I practiced problem after problem and posted even my most senseless questions on the online office hours website. I bugged my TA until I was satisfied and pestered my friends for help with insane solutions.

I ended up as one of the only three students who received a higher than their first test.

Below average marks and an almost-failed test taught me to become persistent. I used my dusty textbooks, went to help sessions, and took advice from my instructors. Eventually, I completed first year with my name on the Dean’s Honour List.

I wish upper-years had welcomed me into their little world as a bright individual rather than just another doomed soul. A horrible first year was not my story.

It doesn’t have to be anyone’s.

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