My name is Peter Leistikow. I am a junior from Atlanta, Georgia. I am studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Sociology.
If you are a freshman, this is a conversation template you have come to understand and possibly despise. However, it does not define you. Although I have been solicited to offer some advice now that you have begun your college journey, I don’t want to be condescending, or give you a disingenuous view of Emory, as that is a job best left to your RAs. Rather, I want to tell you about my own journey and some lessons learned along the way that, ironically, even a well-written yet snarky blog post could not have prepared me to experience.
When I came to school, I imagine I was like many freshman entering campus armed with vague goals and a history of success, but very little idea of which way to turn for direction. Between the constant games, social obligations (unlimited swipes at the DUC means three breakfasts with three different groups of friends), and club fairs, it feels like you are always on the cusp of a new adventure.
There are two main schools of thought when it comes to these initial experiences; either “be yourself” and stay the way you are, or “try new things!” and reinvent yourself in college. I offer you a third option: Be who you want to become. There is nothing wrong with letting go of old hobbies while in the pursuit of new ones, but you don’t have to be moving for the sake of motion or to simply feel like you are getting somewhere. For example, in high school I defined myself through a love of cross-country and track running, playing music, and going to concerts. When I came to school, I changed my time management, but not my passions. I still love to run on the weekends, but I won’t be doing another half marathon anytime soon. I don’t play in the school orchestra, but I still go to every concert for which I can afford a ticket, and I use comedic writing as a new creative outlet. These things fulfilled me, but they were not at the center of the person I wanted to be.
I was very careful in determining which college pursuits aligned with my values. For example, like many freshmen, I had grown up a the fraternity system; when John Belushi donned the “College” sweatshirt and downed a handle, it appeared as a stand-in for every popular college fraternity brother. However, I quickly found that the Greek system became a wedge in burgeoning dorm relationships, and while many succeeded in the high-octane atmosphere, many did not. I too tried to convince myself that joining a fraternity could be the path to a college career well-lived, but ultimately I found the experience not to be fulfilling, and I quietly dropped out of the rush process. Although I did eventually become an executive of a now-chartered coed honor fraternity, I will always regret feeling like the Greek system was the only place to go to find belonging in a campus brimming with students of diverse interests and backgrounds.
While it was easy to decide where to trim the fat, it was very difficult to find out what I would use to fill the void. What I found was that, to quote the great philosopher Taylor Swift, “what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.” Church, among other things, seemed to be reminding me that “you belong with me!” Indeed, I did belong in church, and I needed a faith that would grow with me as I did.
While I grew up in the church, certain events in high school had strained my faith, making me wary of beginning again in church once I entered school. However, once I met the people of the Emory Wesley Fellowship, I knew that this group could help me become the person I wanted to be. In fact, it was through their acceptance, love, and support and the study of the sermon series, and book of the same name, “When Christians Get It Wrong” by Adam Hamilton, that I was able to reconcile my religious beliefs with the biting realities of my past and my tumultuous freshman year present.
When I think back to freshman year, I remember most of all everyone’s prevailing desire to fit in and find acceptance. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to please my parents, my dorm mates, my church group, my coworkers, and myself all the time. In reality, all those people ever needed from me was for me to be the person I wanted to become.
Written by Peter Leistikow a Member of Emory Wesley Foundation.