Hello, Free Press readers! My name is Ben Reed, and I have been the Arts & Culture Editor of The Free Press for this whole academic year. Previously, I was simply a staff writer, and wrote a column called, “Ben There, Done That.” As you’re probably aware, that is the name of this current article you’re reading. This is my final act for the Ben There, Done That column. For now.
I am graduating on May 6 with the Class of 2023, and am on track to enroll in USM’s masters program for counseling for the next few years. For me in my experience, I call this the end of the “mandatory” part of college–I have my bachelors, and everything else is now “optional.” My end goal is to be a mental health counselor in either a high school or college setting, which the masters program would afford me, though I feel comfortable enough to work in the mental health field that is not either of those should I need to. Such would likely be the case if I did not finish my master’s immediately.
Thus, I am living and thinking of my college experience as though it ends in the first week of May this year. In the three years I have attended USM for undergraduate school, it has been transformative, as well as informative of who I am. I graduated high school in 2020 in what I refer to as “peak-pandy” time. COVID precautions were huge, while campus life was not. Despite this, I have appreciated my first year of college living in Robie Andrews for what it was. Through all of the masking, COVID testing, and quarantine protocols, I still managed to find my footing with a great group of friends that I met through happenstance. During the three-day post-move-in quarantine period, I walked past an area of the building where the windows faced each other, and these kids stuck their heads out and were chit-chatting with each other. I remember standing outside, and staring up at the cacophony of faces and open windows as I went around and introduced myself to all of them. I spent a majority of my first year with them out on the blue square of pavement by the sand volleyball court on the Gorham campus. Every night, the Blue Square group would meet out there, and we’d talk about anything and everything in the dark, well into the winds of November. Even though we have mostly disbanded and don’t see each other as much, I keep them all close in my heart for being there with me in the weirdest time to start college (and even a really weird time for the world).
Since that first year, I have navigated through online class after online class with the Social & Behavioral Sciences department, while living in an in-person world. I struggled a lot in my second year with finding community in general. All of my friends suddenly had in-person classes, which barred them at times to hang out beyond class within my wide-open schedule. With a strong backing of community suddenly fraying, I threw myself into activities and clubs around campus, such as becoming a residential assistant (RA) on the Gorham campus, writing for The Free Press, playing with the men’s club volleyball team, and giving tours as a student ambassador. I didn’t know that community was that important to me until I sat through the discomfort of not having people around me.
When I look back on prior installments of Ben There, Done That, I cringe, though I am also thankful. The Ben that wrote those columns was going through it. He was not doing too well, and didn’t quite have as clear of a picture of who Ben Reed was compared to now. This may sound a little reminiscent of those sob stories, but this is now my version of summiting Everest, or basically just overcoming something really hard. College is one of those really hard things, and factors such as mental health struggles do not make it easier. Sitting in the discomfort, and learning more about how I think and how I feel helped a lot to get here. In sitting alone with myself, I learned that I need a good sense of community of friends and colleagues in these groups to thrive. Although my schedule has looked like a coloring book with all of the different color-coded entries, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with other students that have since become my community at USM.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that college, regardless of where you go, is hard. Acknowledge that it’s hard, for whatever reason. For me, it was realizing that I didn’t have as strong of a personal community as I had in the past. For me, graduating with my bachelor’s not only reflects the completion of my degree program, but also reveres this era of my life, where I overcame a lot of personal hardships, and learned more about myself. The symbolism of getting my physical degree also encapsulates a participation trophy of the best kind; it says, “I went and did this really hard thing that challenged me personally, more than anything else.” The certificate reflects that climbing this hill was not as easy or smooth sailing as it looks. Regardless of anyone’s experience, there is always something that has tripped us up on our way here. For others, it may be the academic component, paying for college, mental health struggles, family emergencies. It could really be anything. The idea of being handed my degree on stage seems a lot like Neil Armstrong planting the flag on the moon. It took a lot of time and energy to get to the moon, but the image of the American flag planted there–just the same as the thought of walking across the stage and getting my degree–reflects so much more than just the flag. Ben out.