Smith: Two Lists Before I Leave

Madison Smith, Senior Staffer

If one thing has stayed constant throughout college, it’s that I love lists. I make lists for everything. To do lists, bucket lists, shopping lists, lists of poems to read, lists of restaurants to eat at, lists of people I need to text back, all kinds of lists. Recently, I found a list from 2015, my freshman year in high school: 

Things To Do Before I Go To College:

  • Learn to play guitar (classic)
  • Publish something I wrote (said the future journalism major)
  • Swim a qualifying sectionals time (let’s go swim team)
  • Get a lead in a play (and good for 14 year-old me, honestly)
  • Get into an Ivy League college (awkward)
  • Speak a second language fluently (je ne sais toujours pas parler français)
  • Mastery on all regents (if you’re from New York, you know what I mean)
  • Honors in all of my classes (of course)
  • Win a MUN Conference (for those of us in-the-know, that’s Model UN)
  • Learn how to do winged eyeliner (real)

(Ambitious, but, for the record, I managed to check four whole things off of that list by the time I graduated.)

I spent so much of high school trying to get into college. Not through academic rigor or real, deep learning, but through letters on a page, a transcript and a resume that I could hand to colleges and say, “Here I am! Let me in!” I shot for honors programs, Ivy Leagues, winning conferences and achieving mastery, but, looking back on it, I hated all the steps I had to take to move me closer to those goals. Sure, I got a little ego boost whenever report cards were released, but small victories in between hours of trying to force myself to study and floundering over a TI-Nspire calculator didn’t make up for how absolutely unfulfilled I was. 

I thought being in college would magically turn me into an academic, but, here I finally am, about to graduate from Northwestern University, sitting down to write my senior column only a couple hours before I have to send it to my editor finally realizing — maybe academia isn’t for me.

My high school was small. Like, really small. Like, I graduated with the same 90 kids I went to kindergarten with, small. I was a complete stereotype: girl wants to escape her boring, small-town life, and move to a big fancy university. I would daydream of all the new people I would meet, lots of new people, people who were passionate and interesting and fun, people with new perspectives, people I wanted to be friends with and wanted to be friends with me. My bucket lists may have been covered in gold-plated ambitions and a diligent nose-to-the-grindstone mentality, but not once did I dream of lecture halls or library study sessions. What I wanted was a community. What I wanted was people.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been adding to a new list, one that I’m actually excited about, one that’s actually for me:

Things To Do Before The End of The Summer:

  • Find an apartment with a big window near the red line (and friends).
  • Poetry circle! With [redacted] and [redacted]!
  • Host another dinner party with [redacted].
  • Continue working on documentary with [redacted]. Figure out film equipment access.
  • Relearn how to play the drums, convince people to start a band with me.
  • Finally paint a rock on the lakefill!! With [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], and [redacted] <3
  • Go to one of [redacted]’s wrestling shows in Chicago with [redacted].
  • Save up to go on a trip this September! Maybe meet up with [redacted] in Berlin or [redacted] in The Philippines??

I’ll never be able to thank my 14 year-old self enough for all of her lists, her work, her endurance. I’m so grateful she got me here. But if college has taught me anything, it’s that I need people. I’m fulfilled through friendship. And care. And love. And community. And if anyone asks, that’s what I’m doing after graduation.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @madisonlorsmith