Opinion: My Friends Make Albion College Worth My Time

The author, Dallas senior Juan G. Rodriguez, poses with friends at the last trivia night of the spring 2023 semester, hosted by Stirling Books and Brew. Events like these have been crucial in the development of the author’s relationships with his friends (Photo by Juan G. Rodriguez).

It’s safe to say that much like other seniors here on campus and across the country, my first year here at Albion College was less than ideal. The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on my physical and mental health; I gained weight from stress-eating as I slowly began to revert to the shut-in version of myself that I’d grown out of during high school.

Going into my sophomore year, I knew something needed to change. For better or worse, the campus began to open itself up as pandemic-era policies were rolled back. As doors swung open, I found myself stepping into the Pleiad’s office on the Kellogg Center’s fourth floor. Nervous as I was when I first started working here, I couldn’t stand the thought of spending another year shut in, especially when so many opportunities began to make themselves known. As we went about our work that year, I began the process of trying to be more open, something that went well with the company I kept then. I ended that year dreaming of the next, excited to return to campus and to greet the future head-on. 

Junior year confirmed that I’d made the right call working on staff at the Pleiad; spending my Wednesday evenings outside my room warmed me up to the idea of moving around campus. If a friend wanted to spend time with me, all they’d have to do is tell me to come over and I’d be there in an instant. Be they the friends I had on the third floor of Mitchell’s south tower, the friends I had in the Sustainability House or the friends I’d made on staff – I found myself spending more time with people whose company I couldn’t believe I’d led a life without.

Now, I’m in my senior year, and I still catch myself looking at my friends while we’re together. I’ve seen them laugh, cry, cheer and mourn in ways that I could never conceive of. I turn my head quickly before they can catch my awestruck gaze. Much like the sun and the stars, it’s hard not to look when their brilliance calls to you. They give off enough light to warm up even the coldest of nights. As difficult as it gets to navigate these stressful senior semesters, I’ve the stars above to guide me to safety. I might not know where I am, but I know where my friends are. 

Wherever they are, that’s where I belong. I belong with them in much the same way as I do with my family.

This epiphany only came to me over winter break when I was isolated from most of my social groups, both up North and down South. I love my family with every thread woven into my being, but I can only be around certain people for so long before I begin to show wear and tear. I had few options though, considering that I don’t have a reliable source of transportation that would take me to and from Dallas, the place where I spent 18 years building a life for myself and fostering connections with people. Who’d have thought living in rural Texas would be so – well – rural?

The aforementioned epiphany came paired with another revelation; if I want to spend time with people, I have to approach and ask them if they want to hang out. 

I’m not used to thinking in that way; I’m used to suffering in silence. I’m not supposed to want company because it looks desperate. People have better things to do besides spending time with me. Instead, I should be considerate of other people’s needs and responsibilities instead of asking for their precious time and energy. For a long time, I didn’t reach out and ask to spend time with people for those exact reasons. I’d wait by the phone for someone to reach out, only to now realize how much of my life I was wasting away, waiting. 

I’m trying to dissuade myself of all those notions as of late though. My days here on campus are numbered and I don’t have the desire to spend these next few months alone. This is the most accessible that my friends will be. I can’t go a day without running into someone as we’re both headed towards our classes. I haven’t spent lunch or dinner alone in the longest of times. 

Those days are coming to an end, as much as I don’t want them to; that’s what happens when you’re a senior.

I don’t have time to waste if I want to make these days something worth remembering. I don’t want to be 20 years down the road and regret waiting for someone to come knocking on my door to hang out. The days I find myself put off by my isolation, I have to work past my self-doubts and confess to the awful truth I’ve spent so much of my life ashamed of: I am alone and I don’t want to be. 

The days I adhere to my shame, I spend them drowning in misery and tears.

The days I’ve been happiest though? Those have been the ones where I did something to ease the loneliness I’ve been burdened with for the last 16 years. Sans guilt, I’ve found myself doing things I never thought were in store for me. My friends and I have built relationships that have sustained days of revelry and nights of vulnerability. 

My friends are as much a part of my support system as my family. The former sustains me in a way that resembles the latter. Simultaneously, there are things I’d entrust to my friends that I wouldn’t even consider sharing with my family. 

For those who are still in the midst of their stay here on campus, I envy you. You’ll get to exist, not only in the company of my friends, but also your own. 

This campus is small. I know for a fact that a lot of my friends dwell in social circles distinct from the ones I met them in. There’s a good chance you’ll spend time around them in your daily routine, be it in class, an extracurricular or about campus. 

Even if you don’t know them and never meet them, you’ll still spend the next few years surrounded by some of the most wonderful and awe-inspiring people you’ll ever have the good fortune of knowing. That’s the beauty of your friends: They will always be the people you gaze upon with a smile on your face. And on a campus like this, such a sight will be a daily occurrence. 

So long as you make the effort to put yourself out there, though. I spent much of my time here working up the courage to do so. Now that I’ve reached the point where I’m starting to do so, I intend to make the most of this last semester.

If I’m going to make it to the end of my stay here at Albion, then so be it. I’ve resigned myself to my fate, even if it means my days will be tinged gray once I’m gone and I find myself struggling to schedule time with my friends.

Right now though, things are good. My days are brighter when I bask in the light that my friends emit. Consider me thankful for the fact that this campus allows me to share space with each and every one of them. I’d be a fool to not take advantage of that reality. 

And so I send a message to my friends in the Sustainability House to see if they have time to catch up, play video games or walk their dog. I reach out to my folks on staff to check in on their work and to see if there’s anything I can do for them and then to check and see if they have time Friday evening to go down to Stirling Books and Brew for trivia night. I message my best friend on campus to see if he wants to go get dinner and to remind him to also check the menu before we enter Baldwin. 

I do all this and more because I love my friends. This isn’t a truth I’ve worked to keep secret; rather, it’s foundational to my existence, my very being; something I hope my loved ones know and understand. 

If my friends and this bleeding heart of mine keep me company until the end, I’ll pass on into the next life knowing I lived a good one. Until that time, I aim to make the most of my days on this earth. 

That all starts with a simple “Hey,” and “Are you busy this Friday?”

About Juan G. Rodriguez 45 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

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