Are You Happy? A Letter To The 2017 Freshman Class

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By Joe Cox

“I know very little about anything, but what I do know is that if you can live your life without an audience… you should do it.” – Bo Burnham, Make Happy.

Once I had entered class half an hour late, sweat dripped haphazardly from my dampened hair onto the scantron that had just escaped my moistened fingertips. My teal shirt faded into a darker shade as the moisture from my body soaked into the thin summer cloth. At the time, I hadn’t left the house in months, and my pale skin glistened with droplets lining the thin blonde hairs on my arms. I attempted to hide my gulps for air from the rest of the class, for they had each managed to find their way here without a hitch. I caught the peripheral glare of the girl seated next to me, as a dense heat radiated from every orifice of me. A test of grammatical ability sat in front of me; I despised grammar at the time. I received a 48 on that test, on that first day of class, on that first day at UWF.

After Intro to Literature was over, I met with my girlfriend at the time for what we thought would be lunch, but we couldn’t find the cafeteria. Instead, we searched the campus for shade on that 100-degree day only to find a dirty staircase near Pace Hall – the hall I would call home in just one short year. My girlfriend munched on some vanilla wafers and whined about how the nurse working on the blood drive bus couldn’t get the needle into her veins. I reminded her that she had pathetically tiny veins in an attempt at getting a smile to emerge from the stress tears she was releasing. I succeeded while withholding stress of my own.

My next class didn’t turn out better than the first, as I arrived late once again. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m as skilled with spatial orientation as Donald Trump is at negotiating with North Korea and creating healthcare referendums, so let’s say it took me a bit to find my way. I made my way into the room, found the roll sheet situated at the front of the class that had already begun, scanned for my name, and was met with the disappointing realization that my name was not on the list. I pleaded with my teacher, “I know I have the right building it said so on e-learning!” “I updated the roll this morning,” said the professor grimly, as I faintly cowered into my raised shoulders. “Just take a seat,” he said to end the painful conversation. Sweating once more, with a stain that easily extended the length of my back, I sat in the center of the room to the dismay of the people situated beside me. “Anatomy and Physiology” read the large bold letters headlining the PowerPoint presentation in front of me… I was a long way from Intro to Philosophy.

Quickly, I gathered my light backpack, which had just one binder in it, and I rushed to the door behind the class at the top of the lecture hall. Looking back towards the front, I caught the angry, questioning, face of the professor to which I gave only a shrug in reply. I checked my schedule on e-learning once more, found that the room information had changed, rushed across campus, and, once again, arrived half an hour late. My professor snarled at me as I sat in a plastic chair in front of him with every orifice oozing sweat – my skin was paste at this point. I was told that I had three more opportunities to be late. Upon my third instance of tardiness, I would be deducted a letter grade… I dropped the class the next day not because of the irritating tone of the professor, but because he capitalized every R he wrote on the board – clearly psychotic, right?

In the next month, my girlfriend had cheated on me, and I was left to wander the campus on my own. During that first semester, I made no friends in class, dropped my biology lab due to my emotional inability to get out of bed, spent most of my time performing logical derivations and playing video games from the confines of my room, and I drove an hour to and from school every day.

Semester two rolls around, I meet another girl. I date her out of a blind need for affection that hid my ridiculous number of insecurities, I had my heart broken once more, and I started working out shortly after – no more sweaty days on campus for me. When I wasn’t waking up at 6 a.m. to work out before school, going to class, or playing video games, I lay catatonic in my bed. My face would rest crookedly on the edge of my mattress with faint daylight peaking in from behind my navy drapes and white window shades. If my exes weren’t on my mind, then my depression surely was. Nirvana, Mayday Parade, and who knows how many screamo bands would blare through my headphones as I lay there for a semester trying to avoid any prying questions my parents might ask out of care. I wondered how to shake the pain, how to feel better again, and how to feel whole again. I wondered how to be happy.

Ready for the funny part?

Do you remember the Intro to Philosophy class I dropped the first week of school? I’m not only a philosophy major now, but I’m also working as a logic tutor on campus, serving as the president of Phi Sigma Tau, and presenting a philosophy based presentation at the National Collegiate Honors Conference. The horrible relationships I was in? I don’t even think traditional relationships are rational now, and I couldn’t be happier about that understanding. The catatonic boy in bed has morphed into this crazy, pun spewing, philosophy loving, open, and unafraid person that I pride myself in being today. I’m a mentor, a Secular Student Alliance leader, a tutor, a president, and a smart-aleck, but, most importantly, I’m just a kid trying to do right by the catatonic boy that survived all that pain. It’s funny how everything fluctuates.

To get to the point of telling you all this, and to address the question asked in the title, I offer you this one piece of advice: do whatever the hell you want to do. In the coming weeks, you’ll undoubtedly be bombarded with challenges, goals, people, and paths that you didn’t know existed. In one fancy lecture hall, someone in some suit and some tie will be telling you about how you’re at the greatest university in Florida, in the south, in the panhandle, in the nation, in the universe, in the multiverse, or in whatever location the guy chooses to use all while you’re encouraged to do this, do that, do work with him, see things with her, learn from that thing, look at this thing, and who knows what else. You’ll be told you’ll want to speak with an advisor, set up a plan, think about a thesis, craft some goals, go to some events, venture here, go there, or do something else. The truth of these to-do’s is simple: no one has any idea what you should do. I know because I’ve seen hundreds of people take hundreds of the paths and end up in hundreds of places, just as you have likely seen already.

I, nor anyone else, can guarantee you success if you follow some step-by-step “here’s how the be successful in a cliché idea of the world” guide, just like no one can guarantee you failure if you drop out of school, move to Idaho, and take up juggling on a potato farm. The best any of us have are some archetypal examples, correlations from strange sources we probably can’t cite, our own experiences, and “reason,” which everyone has a different definition of. There’s no right or wrong way to live life, no right or wrong path to take, and NO pressure to live some perfect, always happy in la la land, lifestyle that many modern people strive.

When people say, “The world is your oyster,” they often fail to mention that the world doesn’t consist of only one oyster. The oysters of life, found in the new opportunities and new people always surrounding you, are innumerable.  In college, a tidal wave chocked full of these oysters is going to wash over you in an instant. Sometimes, once that tidal wave has crashed, the oyster you choose to pick up reeks with the stench of the ocean, sometimes it’s slimy and crawls up your arm to slither along your eyes, sometimes your oyster dies right when you open it, sometimes you can’t even get the shell open despite REALLY wanting to, and sometimes you’ll throw one oyster away to have the opportunity to pick up ten more. Alternatively, the oyster might be amazing, speak English, solve world hunger, and create dope tunes with you like the clams in SpongeBob, but those oysters are tough to find. Sometimes, you may even find that the searching through all those oysters was the best part all along.

So, like Bo, I too know very little about ANYTHING, but what I do know is that if you are actively plowing through whatever oysters you so choose, doing the things you want to do, seeing the things you want to see, and letting yourself blossom like the beautiful flower you probably are, then you’re probably happier than most of Earth’s inhabitants. The earth can be a lonely place when you’re laying catatonic on a bed, so, unless that’s what the hell you want to do, don’t do it. Let the song in your heart play not because the world needs to hear but because you deserve to let it free.

And I, for one, will always be around to listen.

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