Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
I wake up one sunny day in August 2007. I turn off my alarm and look around to find myself alone in my room. I took a deep breath in search of the familiar smell of fresh coffee and toasted bagels only to find the scent of still air. I listen for the familiar sounds of my parents and sisters as they stir out of bed only to find silence. It was then it dawned on me that I was alone and on my own. It was my first day in College.
When I learned that I was going to a university, I admit, I had some reservations. When I initially thought what my new college life was going to consist of, I thought that the atmosphere of the college campus was going to be similar to my previous high school life along with frat parties, inhuman hazing initiations, and dead-boring professors over 60. My biggest concern I had was that I was going to be living on my own in the dorms. The longest I have ever been apart from my parents were about a week for Boy Scout summer camp.
I admit, I was lonely, overwhelmed, and confused at first. But after I settled in, I quickly found out that college life was a whole new culture with new people and new rules. Not only that, I found out more about myself and how to be self-reliant when I was living alone.
When I stepped onto Western Kentucky University’s (WKU) campus for the first time, one of my first thoughts was that this place was big. Really big. While High School could be described as island. College could be its own continent. This world was not contained into one boring looking building and a bus ride like at High School. The entire school was a whole community with lots of places to traverse and explore.
I found it very refreshing to see the atmosphere around me change from a noisy habitat of wasted effort to a den of potential scholars. When I looked around on campus and see the people moving back forth on the sidewalk, I could see it in their eyes that there was something occupying their minds. A project? A test? A new job? Laundry? Overseas internship? Lunch? Whatever the case, they knew that they had a task to complete and they would get to work to get it done without delay. There were still some dunderheads here and there, but they quickly learned the hard way that life is not their playground anymore.
One such example took place during my freshman year when I took an Art Appreciation class. The class was just getting results back from a test we had taken the week before. That was when one of the students leisurely approached the professor and confessed that he had missed the test and requested to take a makeup. To say that the professor was not keen on the idea was an understatement. The student could have informed the professor weeks beforehand and they could have arranged something, but he didn’t. Now that everyone in the class has gotten their test back, the student could pull another student aside and ask to look at the graded test and thus have an unfair advantage. The professor was quick to realize this and quicker to eject the laid-back student from the class. The student tried to play it cool and nonchalant, but the infuriated teacher made short work of his insolence and ejected him from class with a very loud and angry “GET OUT!!” Nobody could blame her.
I couldn’t help but nurse a secret delight in seeing the obnoxious, immature twits being filtered from the hard workers. I took pride in knowing that I had surpassed the breeding grounds of immature tormentors and had moved to a higher level in life. Although the college atmosphere had been mostly cleared of juvenile beings, there would always be some that would prey on the weaknesses of others.
Upon my freshman year, I also noticed a change in tone from my teachers in high school and my professors in college. Whenever I would interact with the professors, I’d notice a transition from “How can I help you today?” to an unsaid ‘Do you really care about my class?’ Unlike the high school teachers, I had to earn any help from my professors by showing that I cared about passing their class and meeting their challenges. In short, if I showed that gave a damn about my class, the professors gave a damn about me.
WKU also became the ultimate proving ground for overcoming my autism. Not only did I have to overcome my deficiencies when doing my class assignments and performing my duties as a college student, I had to be able to provide for myself independently.
From this day forward, I had to be responsible for my classes! Laundry! Dishes! Hygiene! Responsible for my meals! PAYING for groceries! And then be at least two steps ahead of the game for the next day. It felt like someone had loosened a pair of training wheels on my life. This was a brand new experience to be so responsible for my life when my parents weren’t around to clean up after me.
Finding balance to do it all was always a tricky job. This was because, before college, my sisters and I would divide up our household chores among us. When I became a college resident, it was now my responsibility to do all of the chores whether I liked them or not. However, this did not mean that I had to complete five years of college on my own. When you live on your own, you can’t be a one-man show. You are going to need help in one aspect of college or another. Like it is said in another one of my favorite mom-isms, “Even Jesus had apostles.” Everyone needs help from time to time.