Your Turn

Great Expectations

By Lizzie Harkins '13

Each year, on the eve of its last semester on the Hill, the graduating class gathers in St. Joseph Memorial Chapel for Senior Convocation. The students reflect on the last three and a half years, and consider how best to use their final semester to shape the life they want to lead. This year's convocation included remarks from several seniors, including Lizzie Harkins '13, who shared her thoughts on striving for perfection.

Sitting in this very chapel a little more than three years ago, we all wondered about the ways we might make an impact on this campus over the next few years. For me, my expectations started with a perfect game of Wii bowling during Summer Gateways, the orientation for first-year students. That night at Holy Cross, some spent their time awkwardly mingling; I spent mine Wii bowling in Crossroads. Earlier that spring I was consumed by learning how to bowl a 300. Forget graduating high school, learning to bowl a perfect score was my main priority. Luckily for me, my obsession became my ticket to friends. That night in Roads, I bowled a 300. I realize this minor event seems insignificant, except to John Stepsis '13, who still to this day begrudges me for beating him not once, but twice that night. But for me, it was the first sign that I might actually succeed in college. If I could model college after my Wii bowling skills-concentration, dedication and a lot of practice-I might actually bowl a perfect game of "College."

Famous last words.

When I came to Holy Cross, I set up irrational goals that absolutely no one could have attained. And when I failed, I was frustrated that college, and in more dramatic moments, my life in general, wasn't panning out to be so perfect. I faced my biggest obstacle three weeks into my first semester, when my lifelong friend and neighbor died suddenly. I completely crumbled. I spent the majority of those next weeks crying in public, neglecting my work, failing tests, dropping out of track workouts and just generally being an emotional wreck. The imperfections continued. Straight As were no longer as easy or attainable as they had been in high school. I wasn't the fastest runner on the track team, not even a top contributor. I was rejected from the Honors Society. I missed nights out with my friends. I constantly felt like I was scrambling to gain my ground only to avoid another situation that would push me even further away from my envisioned life of perfection.

Fast forward to senior year. A final chance to do it all perfectly-ace challenging classes, publish a research paper and run a personal best in the mile. But I still hadn't learned that setting those kinds of expectations only meant setting myself up for further failure. Where did that lead? More tears, some bad grades, a "W" on my transcript and late nights in the library rather than at Leitrims Pub on Park Ave.

Thankfully, in the midst of the chaos, I had a moment of clarity. I was with my friends, worrying that our four-hour dinner was stretching too far into my date with Dinand, when someone said, "Isn't it amazing that we've made it this far together and yet, in a couple of months, we won't all be in the same place?"

Wow, I thought. He's right. We won't.

I had been viewing my imperfections as setbacks, rather than as moments that had propelled me to where I was meant to be all along. Imperfections weren't fun, but they had led me to some pretty great things, namely, a dinner table with wonderful friends without whom I wouldn't have made it through the death of a friend, some failing grades, terrible track races and many other challenging moments. I had wanted to avoid any imperfections but I hadn't realized what I, what we all, have gained from our own flawed experiences. We have learned (though definitely not practiced) that cramming for an exam the night before likely leads to a bad grade. We have grown more resilient from dropping out of a Patriot League race or being benched in the most important game of the year. We have come to understand that the first friend we met on campus, though we promised them our lifelong friendship, may disappear by the next semester.

I think back to my obsession with Wii and how that game in Crossroads really had set the tone for what was in store for me at Holy Cross. Think about it-bowling is the only sport that you can strike out again and again and still be the champ. You can knock things down, your ball will end up in the gutter and you can still win the game. Likewise, college doesn't need to be flawless to be successful. Soon we will be kicked out into the real world where bosses might fire us for messing up and Sis won't be there to smile at us as she swipes us into Kimball. Our lives will never be without failure, but from the challenges we've faced at Holy Cross, we've also learned, like the pins in bowling, to stand back up round after round. In our last semester, we have a final opportunity to embrace our faults, to teach each other that failing and imperfections are OK and to continue to learn that striking out is succeeding.  ■

Lizzie Harkins '13 is a psychology major with a pre-medical concentration from Latrobe, Pa. She plans to attend medical school after graduation.