Written by James Gardiner.
The transition from a Catholic all-boys school to university is not something I’ve thought a lot about. I don’t think I had any specific problems that any other student coming straight from high school wouldn’t have had. It was probably more my social anxiety that made the move more difficult. On the first day at uni, I had a panic attack due to the sheer amount of people. But I also met someone during an orientation class who would become one of my closest friends.
Most of my early experiences at university were filled with these clashing, polarising moments. For example, the reactions to my identity as a gay man. When I left high school, most of my teachers said that uni would be great for me. I would finally have people who had interests similar to mine and the whole gay thing wouldn’t really be an issue because there’d be a lot of people like me. In some ways, this was true. My friends were incredibly accepting and I never had to come out to them—largely because the bag I took on that first day had SOME BOYS LIKE BOYS in big handwriting. However, what didn’t happen, was finding everybody I had expected to find. I always thought that uni would be awash with the gay community and that I would seamlessly fit in. It didn’t really happen that way. On orientation day I discovered that Deakin had a Queer Society, which I joined first thing, but I’ve always been too afraid to actually go to a club meeting.
A similar thing happened with friends. It was in this area that I noticed the most profound difference. In high school, I wasn’t popular, but I had a small friendship group and one best friend. These friendships were easy to maintain as I saw these people every day through very little effort of my own. At university, this is very different. That friend I met on the first day, well, I think we were in two classes together in the first trimester, which meant two things: one, I had to work to keep the friends I made; and two, I had to make a whole lot of new ones every class I went to. Some classes were easier than others. Some were impossible.
I’ll never forget one of my film studies lectures. I’d managed to make one friend in this class. We always sat and watched the lecturer, Leon, be crazy and informative. She wasn’t my best friend, but having some stability was something I appreciated. Then, one day, I got to the lecture, and my friend seemed to be running a little late, which worried me slightly. I saved the seat next to me and mere moments before the lecture started, she walked into the room. She was with someone else, which wasn’t a problem, because I seemed to have a strange superpower that enabled me to get entire rows to myself. Then, when she got to my row, she looked at me, pretended like she didn’t know me and just kept walking. They say it’s the smallest things that hurt the most. This tiny, miniscule incident which probably didn’t affect her in the slightest ruined my day and many, many days afterwards and made the transition from high school to university extremely difficult. I began to realise all the good things that I had lost; my friends, the teachers and the sense of structure that I was used to were gone. I didn’t think I was going to survive, but I did.
I got through it. It took a long time, full of pain, realisations and hard work. I still remember the day I finally walked past my old high school and said goodbye. That place changed me, but it was time I accepted the farewell. That was a big step in helping me move past my tumultuous high school years. And now, I am better for it. The friends who didn’t walk past and the ones who even saved a seat for me are some of my closest friends who I trust with my life. And those that did don’t hurt me anymore. I don’t even remember who that girl was, but I hope she enjoyed her new friend, because I’m sure as hell enjoying mine.
Even now, I can’t help but think that his happiness is temporary. At the end of this year, I will leave uni. I will be forced into the next chapter of my life which I’m sure will be the most difficult I have ever known. I see my friends as a small comfort, but I realise that some of the people who are my closest friends now will drift away, as our lives dovetail. And that’s really sad, so I don’t like to think about that very much. Instead, I see the end as a means to celebrate what I have. If I’d known that I would be so devastated by the end of high school, I would’ve tried to enjoy it more. But I can’t go back, so I have to live now in the knowledge that one of the main things that is stable and calm in my life will come to an end in less than 10 months. I just hope that at the end of this journey, I can look back with no regrets.
Visit James on his blog: Not a Sexy Vampire