My Defining Moments – A Graduate’s Ode to College

I think the most beautiful creature on Earth is a butterfly. When we see them, it instantly fills us up with happiness and hope. You cannot be sad around a butterfly. If you have ever seen the entire cocoon process, you will know how much pain and discomfort comes 

The beauty of the butterfly comes at a great cost of discomfort and pain when it is in a cocoon. Unfortunately, it cannot do the cocoon process if it wants its wings to develop. One thing I learned in my last year is that growth comes from an uncomfortable place. 

Stepping outside my comfort zone, taking up challenges, having difficult conversations, handling various relationships. These aren’t the ideal situations, but end up making us who we are. 

Every time we return from a trip, the first thing we do is put out the souvenirs around the house. The small statues in the showcase, the keychains on the house keys, and so on. As we pass by them at home, we get reminded of the small incidents that took place from where we got these products. Sometimes it is the pretty smile of the young street vendor, the temple we visited near the store, or just the ancient story behind the city we visited. 

I just got my result for the final semester of the final year of my engineering. College life is over and it seems like the end of an era. As I am stepping out of an important phase of my life, I too have a huge collection of souvenirs I want to put out on display. In four years, there have been many occasions where I have been in situations where I was uncomfortable and wanted to run to the closest exit. Not running and staying in them have made these incidents my defining moments, just like the one for the butterfly when it leaves the cocoon for the first time.  

Before I move onto the next leg of my journey, I just want to put all my defining moments together in one place so that later in life, I can keep coming back to them. And, I hope this brings a sense of closure for me. 

Chapter 1: The Dubious Start

In life, the only change is a constant! 

Keep moving 

Don’t stop till you drop! 

We hear these and say these every day. But when it is time to implement it, the real test begins. We pack bubble wrap around our valuables so that when they fall, they are well protected. Just like that, by the turn of events, I always had some cushioning every time I was experiencing a drastic change. 

When I joined the school, 3 of my neighbours had taken new admission that year too.

When I joined classes, I always had at least one friend to accompany me

When I enrolled in a new school for my junior college, my mother had been a volunteer teacher there for a few years, and everyone knew me. 

When I joined COEP, I was alone. I knew no one. I remember sitting in the huge auditorium with a strong air conditioning system. I had chills on my hand, I could feel the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach because for the first time, I had no cushioning or anyone to fall back to. 

On my first day, I remember I got called out for some pending paperwork, and I panicked. I had canceled all my other admissions and I could not afford to get kicked out of COEP. I put on a confident face and when to speak to the concerned person. Luckily, it was a small hiccup, the faculty and staff helped me through it. I did not have any cushioning here from before, but that didn’t mean I could not make it now. A lot of such hiccups took place in the last 4 years, but I got through them with some confidence and the ability to ask for help. 

Chapter 2: F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

For some reasons I do not understand till today, I ended up making more friends with boys than girls in college. Well, there were only so many girls and most of them headed back to the hostel in breaks. In my second year, I used to eat lunch with a group where all of us carried our Dabba from home. Our break timings were coordinated and we had lots of things in common. 

I grew up with more sisters than brothers so I never faced the teasing and nagging that is purely out of affection. Thus, I did not know how to deal with it and instantly got annoyed. When the guys of the group noticed how I reacted to the teasing, they teased me more. It just led me to react more and a cycle started. It was very harmless but I was not comfortable with how it was escalating.

I remember one day, I snapped and lost my cool. Suddenly a new cycle emerged. 

 teasing - snapping - teasing - repeat. 

Soon the semester ended, our lunch hours changed, we started meeting less and everything changed. Every year, my lunch gang shuffled. It happened to a lot of other circles too, as our lunch hours were determined by our lab schedules. 

In January I was very close to someone and by October, we just had small chats every now and then. I used to eat a meal with them every day and today, we just wish each other on birthdays. 

Just thinking about the rate of change made me uncomfortable in my few months in college. I took a little effort to keep in touch with a few of my groups. The guilt in me for having lost so many beautiful connections made me participate actively in the organization of our virtual graduation party.

Chapter 3: The Voice

There was an event at college by a club I was a part of one evening. It was very successful and after wrapping up, I headed home. It was a little later than usual and it was drizzling. I loved the weather and was singing along to my playlist. I was ascending a flyover and the car in front of me suddenly stopped. I couldn’t understand why, but I stopped too. Within seconds, I felt a loud bang. And then 2 more followed. With my own eyes, I saw my head move towards the steering wheel and I could feel my seatbelt pull me back. My head hit the seat hard. The driver behind me was unable to break in time and drove into my vehicle so hard that I hit the car in front of me and bounced back. I was in so much shock that I couldn’t think rationally, my vehicle had shrunk in inches. Fortunately, I was okay but several scenarios started running in my head of how things could have been worse and how my parents would react to this. Somehow, I took the driver from the car behind me to the nearest police station and got my family over. 

At the police station, the other driver and his political father had overpowered the conversation. They took advantage of the situation and how scared I was and almost convinced my parents that it was my fault. It took me some time to catch up with the conversion in a different Marathi dialect, but I knew I had to stand up for myself and at least share my side of the story.  I had to overcome the language barrier and speak up. 

I had taught in schools and given speeches before but this is when I realized the true importance of being able to communicate even in simple- stageless situations. Still recovering from the shock of the accident, I remember just shouting to get everyone’s attention and then told them my side of the story. It was a ‘she said – he said’ situation, and the police asked us to settle it ourselves. The other driver shut up and left with his father because now their lie was caught. This was probably the most uncomfortable situation physically for me, but I learned the value of “my side of the story” and never trusting anyone to break in time. 

Chapter 4: The Smaller Details

I always tried to maintain a low profile in college because I knew the popular kids always got into trouble. In my third year, I went on to become the Student Secretary of the College’s E-cell, which I like to define as a roller coaster experience. That entire year can be a defining moment but the highlight was on the second day of Pune Startup Fest, which we organised to provide a platform of recognition for the startups of Pune. 

In my entire life, never had someone of authority shouted at me or called out to me in class. On this day, what was one of the most important days in my life, the Director of the institute called me and our Faculty Advisor. That day, I had the most difficult conversation of my life. There was a mistake that was made and we didn’t even realize it. Sir’s tone and words were very normal, but the realization of the mistake made me very uncomfortable. If it was not rectified, it would have led to some serious embarrassment to not only the event but also to the institute. I remember, tears rolled down my eyes and they would not stop. I wanted to run to the nearest exit, all the way home.

Later in the day, he did praise me on more than one occasion and even in front of the same professor. He had fixed our mistake before any damage was done but he taught me an important lesson. As the Director of such a large institute, he had read every line, every detail, and with such attention, and on the other hand, I was a student leading a small team, and I missed out on it. I looked up to him throughout my engineering for his perfection and farsightedness, but after this episode I realized, I need to focus on the multiple small things to think far. Greatness lies in the small things. 

My experiences in college could fill up four daily journal diaries but these moments and a few more will always stand out in my showcase. Although they are not extraordinary, these defining moments have made me who I am today and I am utterly grateful for having them…….

As originally published originally at Enterprise India Fellowship on 20th June 2021.

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