Four years of firsts and lasts

Pia Ranada
For many of us, college was 4 years of many firsts: first alcoholic beverage, first energy drink, first all-nighter, first love, first F, first A

TOP OF THE WORLD. Photo by Glenn Barit.

Four years. In the greater scope of things, 4 years are tiny, incremental, almost insignificant. A human can live to be 100 years old, making 4 years practically a particle in the universe. What is 4 years compared to 10 spent working for a company, 20 as a parent, or 30 in a marriage?

But no matter what we do, where we go or who we become, those 4 years of college remain wrapped in mystery, nostalgia, fondness and more than a little bit of embarrassment. I haven’t been a graduate for a week and I already feel the reality of college fading away like a dream to be replaced by memories less tangible, but more potent.

Child psychologists say that a human’s formative years, from 2 to 5 years-old, are the years when a person begins to develop character traits that will come to define them as adults later on in life. I believe that the college years are an equally critical period of a person’s life.

As 2-year-olds, we learn to say “No!” to every little thing, much to the consternation of our parents. As wide-eyed college freshmen, we learn to say “Yes!” to all kinds of crazy antics and gimmicks we thought ourselves incapable of doing in high school, much to the delight of our peers. As toddlers, we slowly learn to drink properly from glasses instead of bottles. As college students, we learn rather quickly how to drink bottles of alcohol and how to tend to our hang-over the next morning.

As shy pre-schoolers being gently pushed by our parents to mingle with other kids, we learn the art of sharing the sand box yet keeping a distance from kids of the opposite gender out of fear of “cooties.” As bashful college students confronting the co-ed reality of university life, we are constantly egged on by our friends to approach that particular “cutie” who attends the same Economics 101 class.

In pre-school, we learn that if we add our apples correctly and cross our T’s, we’ll get a golden star from teacher. In college, we learn that on hell weeks, cramming is inevitable and that Facebook and Angry Birds will not get us any closer to those Latin honors.

Many firsts

Yes, for many of us, college was 4 years of many firsts: first alcoholic beverage, first energy drink, first all-nighter, first love, first F, first A. We arrived at our university’s doors eager and ready, thinking it would be just like high school except bigger, better and a tad bit more serious. We emerge 4 years later, bloodied, raw, totally humbled yet strangely, still feeling invincible.

Most of us expected college to change us but nobody knew just how deep and profound those changes would be. What kind of person have we become because of college? What values have been stamped on our souls (or stamped out) by our 4-year-stay? What have we been primed to become?

But college is also 4 years of many lasts. For most, it’s the last chance to enjoy summer holidays and semestral breaks. It’s the last time we get to sit in a classroom, listen to a teacher and just learn for the heck of it. It’s the last time we get daily allowance from our parents, the last time we can enjoy student discounts, the last time we can spend our long break hours hanging out with friends, cramming or commiserating about stupendously difficult exams together.

These 4 years won’t be easily forgotten no matter how much we would like to stamp them out from memory. Every now and then, someone will want to hear our college story. “Who were you in college?” The nerd, the jock, the princess? Our kids will want to know, they might even attempt to hunt down that yearbook. Our future employer would want to be in on it too.

College defines us

Fast-forward 10 years from now when we’re at a table with some friends and we will want to remember. We will seek out those memories of golden days, of that crazy road-trip or unforgettable all-nighter. We will want to share those 4 years with anybody who cares to listen because those years changed us, those years have still got us by the heart.

Four years versus the entirety of a lifetime; a mere detail, you might think. But anything that defines an object, a species of plant or a person is a detail. A monarch butterfly is a monarch butterfly because of a detail: its distinctly-patterned wings.

In the same way, we are who we are because of all the specific experiences, tiny accidents and particular moments that have shaped us bit by bit. College is a detail that will continue to define us, one way or another. This should not be taken as a restriction in the sense that we are forever condemned to our college-selves. Rather, it should be seen as a starting-point that will hopefully lead to bigger and better things.

How time does fly. Four years gone in a flash. Four years, forever. –

Pia Ranada graduates this Saturday, March 24, magna cum laude, with an AB Communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at