Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 2, 1997

Stacey Patton:
An Undergraduate Life

A Gazette series
offering a first-person
account of an undergrad

On Tidy Rooms And Other Good Intentions

Every year the "Back-to-School" period has always had the same meaning for me. Throughout high school and even my freshman year at Hopkins, back-to-school represented a new year, a fresh start, a clean slate and a new agenda ready for plans and goals.

Accompanied by all this newness of sorts were pristine clothes and shoes, accessories for my room, shiny notebooks for each subject, pens with unchewed caps, unsharpened pencils, hi-liters without black smudges on their neon colors and a hodge-podge of utensils ranging from white-out bottles to scotch tape.

But my experience has shown me that like most things in life, newness also fades away. For a short time after school would begin I'd find myself organizing every aspect of my life from making my bed, alphabetizing CDs, labeling notebooks, straightening my desktop, taking notes with the most intricate details to planning what I was to wear the next day to classes. However, after a few weeks the whole process would break down.

As for my room, my bed was never made again for the remainder of the year. CDs were never put in their matching cases. Less than 20 pages were ever used in my notebooks; somehow I'd find my homework under the mountain on my desktop. And my clothes hardly ever saw an ironing board or a hanger.

A primary goal I'd make at the start of each academic year was to be a disciplined student and athlete. I used to write out all my classes and the grades I'd strive for--A's of course. I would promise myself to read every single page of each article and book assigned by my professors. Most important, I would not procrastinate.

My athletic life would be just as structured as my academic life. Every morning before classes I planned to run three miles, lift weights and do 100 sit-ups and push-ups before bed. Needless to say, none of this ever happened.

So this year I've decided to do things differently. No more labels, multiple notebooks, unnecessary utensils or plans I only wish to keep. I'm a sophomore this year. A step up on the totem pole. A big dog. This year the only plan I'm making is to be spontaneous. I know, I know; it's not usual to plan to be spontaneous, but I've already begun.

I arrived on campus Aug. 18. I had planned to spend all of September and the first two weeks in October getting in shape for basketball season in addition to classes. But after meeting up with some girls from the cross country team I decided to run with them this semester. After a week of hard training I am becoming physically stronger, mentally tougher and having tons of fun with my new teammates. Had I stuck with my original plan probably none of this would have happened.

In the past I have limited myself and my opportunities by sticking to a set plan or a rigid schedule. I kept myself from having fun and really submerging myself in my college experience. Everything was always viewed as either "this" or "that" instead of maybe "both this and that." For example, either I'd have fun or I'd study. Either I'd play basketball the way my coach wanted or I'd play my way. But this year I will study and have fun, and I'll play the way coach wants me to and my way as well.

I've learned that finding a balance for everything is among the most essential keys to a successful college career. If I see things only one way then my scope becomes limited, and I defeat the whole purpose of learning. Sticking to a set plan may assure a certain outcome and may also leave no room for mistakes. However, spontaneity, experimenting and making mistakes lead to growth and a lifetime of memories.

A couple of weeks ago my teammates and I finished a five-mile run early that morning. We sat huddled together catching our breaths and stretching our muscles. We were sweaty, exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go back to bed. Slowly trudging toward the athletic fields, members of the football team occasionally yawned and caressed aches on their bodies.

Silence fell over our team for a short while. We looked like zombies. The thought of coming back later that afternoon to run more miles made us even more fatigued. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of a set of high-speed sprinklers on a field behind the athletic center. I convinced half the team to run through the sprinklers with me.

We sprinted down the field in our bare feet and attacked the sprinklers head on. As the water glistened on our bodies we did cartwheels, airplane impressions and pretended we were ballerinas dancing in a water valley. I felt like a child again. I wanted to savor that moment, realizing that soon I'd be caught up in the inevitable monotony a new school year brings.

In the far-off distance I saw the other half of the team, football players, coaches and other onlookers watching us. Some laughed, others smiled. Others probably thought we were out of our minds. And I'm sure that even a few of the onlookers wanted to join us. But they had no plans of getting wet. No time for spontaneity.

I had not planned to get soaked and return to my apartment dripping wet. But that short moment of spontaneity made me realize the importance of forgetting about everything and enjoying just a short moment that would ultimately help me face the rest of the day and even a new academic year.

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage