“Welcome to Brandeis!” Orientation Leaders said with huge smiles on their faces. I remember the first day I came onto campus as an official Brandeis student during move-in day on a hot August afternoon. Looking back, even though it was only a few months ago, it feels like years. 

I remember being so nervous as I walked around because every building looked exactly the same. All I saw were trees everywhere. 

It seems funny now, but I only knew where I lived, Massell Quad, because there was a pond right in the center of it. With only three days to get familiar with the campus before classes started, saying I was feeling uneasy would be an understatement. I really wish I had paid attention during the campus tour I took in November of my senior year of high school. If we’re being honest, when I arrived to move into my dorm, it was only the second time I had been on campus.

Coming to Brandeis from a predominantly Black and Latinx high school, this campus was full of people with cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds that I had never encountered before. So, along with having to adjust to the physical space of Brandeis, I also had to become familiar with the idea that college was going to be a journey marked by people that were different from me. 

During the first week of classes, I decided that I had to overcome my slight fear of getting lost and leave my dorm room. I walked around campus with Kelly Zheng ’22, a girl I had just met the day before. 

We talked about how confusing the campus map was and how huge the campus seemed to be at the time. I didn’t know then that getting lost together and finding the gym all the way across campus would lead to us becoming close friends, but it did. 

Identifying as someone with multiple ethnic backgrounds – Jamaican, Haitian, Irish, Italian, and more – having friends and interacting with people with different racial identities from me was always something that I considered important. 

To me, my friendship with Kelly represents more than a casual camaraderie catalyzed by the need to bond with other first-years during orientation. 

When I first arrived at Brandeis, I wondered if college was just going to be like high school all over again. 

My friendship with Kelly, a Chinese-American girl from New Jersey, meant that college, unlike high school, was going to be a time where I was going to be tasked with making connections with people that went beyond descriptive similarities. 

Although different in racial background, Kelly and I have similar interests (one of them being taking five-hour naps).We regularly have long conversations about where we come from, how we were raised, and how we came to be the people that we are today. 

Eventually, I also met Kelly’s roommate, Simarn Regmi ’22, who is Nepali-American. The first time I met her, she was only in her robe (I had come into her room, unannounced, with Kelly). I don’t think I’ll ever forget how friendly she was. From then, she, Kelly and I have grown closer. We all have different qualities, and when we’re together we act like fools, but what I value the most about our friendship is the encouragement.

The great Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Angelou’s wise words continue to guide me as I grow as an individual and make new friends along the way. 

At Brandeis, I surround myself with people who accept me for who I am and encourage me to always persevere, even in situations that may seem never-ending. I know it’s not easy doing things that take you out of your comfort zone, but it makes the college experience worth it. 

We are here to have conversations that can be uncomfortable. Making college feel like “home” takes more than trying to recreate your hometown; it is about having connections with people that you would never have expected to bond with and realize that descriptive differences do not have to divide us. 

I believe in the power of college campus friendships as a support network. Not only that, but having friends means that you’re not alone. 

Our friends remind us of who we are when we lose hope in ourselves, and they make us feel like we are at home when we are in college. In my relatively short time as a college student, I think the most important thing that I can share is the idea that it is entirely up to you to shape your college experience.