“You’re not in Scarsdale anymore — it’s the real world.”
Brian Lilly summed it up succinctly for the Scarsdale High School class of 2020 at their Zoom Senior Seminar Wednesday morning. The 2019 grad, who recently finished his freshman year at University of California San Diego, was one of eight former SHS students speaking to the soon-to-be graduates about the ups and downs of freshman year.
Like everything else this spring, Scarsdale High School’s faculty and seniors had to adapt to an online platform for another milestone day due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Counseling department members Jennifer Morgan and Aaron Mooney hosted Lilly, Emmeline Berridge (UNC), Jack Charland (Dickinson College), Lindsay Gelles (Washington University of St. Louis), Elias Hairiatidis (College of William and Mary), Harry Liu (Case Western Reserve), Nina Metviner (University of Wisconsin) and Avery Rubin (University of Vermont).
While the college freshmen had established themselves with routines, activities and social lives prior to being sent home from college in March to finish out the year with distance learning, this year’s rising college freshmen will face a bigger challenge as a majority of the class of 2024 is expected to begin their college careers at home online.
“I think the key thing to remember is that no one really wants to be online, if that makes sense, so everyone is trying to connect with one another,” Berridge said, adding, “The really cool thing is that everyone is so eager to connect, especially now, so it kind of makes those communities stronger, which I thought was an interesting thing to come out of this.”
The “You’re not in Scarsdale anymore” was a common theme of the panel discussion and it had both positive and potentially negative connotations.
For Charland, it was a wake-up call finding out that many of the people he came in contact with at school had never met a Jewish person before.
“I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and I automatically started thinking, ‘Oh, he’s a bigot’ or something like that, which is so terrible of me at the same time,” he said. “Definitely don’t prejudge people. I am definitely friends now with people [who] never in a million years I would imagine myself being friends with, so that’s kind of awesome.”
Charland had another aha! moment when someone he knew, whom he didn’t realize “was having issues,” pulled out a gun one night. The school reacted quickly to diffuse the situation, which made Charland feel safer, but it was still a shock to his system.
“It was kind of tough because it made you realize you should be aware of who you are around and who you talk to… and it was like who the heck are we associated with?” Charland said.
Safety is a key component of college life. “The thing I think kept me the most safe this year at school is the awareness that I am not in Scarsdale anymore and this is the real world and I’m now on my own,” Berridge said. “I have control of my own decisions, so just being cognizant of your own safety at all times is really important, especially… as a girl on a college campus.”
For her that meant never walking alone at night and not drinking anything without knowing where it came from. Gelles also noted the importance of a “buddy system.”
The “not in Scarsdale” theme applies to other areas, as well.
“I don’t think I realized how much I really appreciated my Scarsdale education until I left,” Gelles said. “A lot of my peers at college had never really had expository writing assignments and a lot of the different assignments we had at Scarsdale were brand new to people in college… The biggest difference in college is now no one is holding your hand, no one is reminding you when your work is due, no one is reminding you to keep studying for the test. It’s all on you and that’s a big difference and that’s difficult… when you take the test you’ll be thankful if you put in the work over the course of time and not save everything for the last second.”
Scarsdale students are used to a “tutorial” model in which they have constant, consistent opportunities to connect with their teachers and advisers. In college, it’s up to the student to be proactive with that and to take advantage of other academic resources the school has to offer.
“It’s really using what you learned in high school and applying that to the real world of academics,” Berridge said.
Liu noted that it’s “easy to get lost in a lecture hall of 400 people,” that it’s “almost impossible not to.” In those situations if you find the right group of people to study or connect with it will “make it feel less vast.”
Gelles said her classes range from 10 to 200 students, so she’s learned that teacher assistants and other older students can become great mentors in navigating different scenarios. Hairiatidis and Charland suggested making sure you get along with your adviser and find an adviser who has a broad knowledge of the school’s offerings.
Balancing academics and social life is never easy. Metviner said she initially thought college was work-work-work all the time.
“When I first got to college I felt like I should always be doing work, like I felt like I wasn’t doing enough work because I was constantly surrounded by people and I think one of the biggest adjustments was realizing that just because I’m at college doesn’t mean I should be doing work,” she said, noting the importance of “learning how to work with people and around people.”
Rubin said even though others might be slacking off, you can’t fall into the trap. “When you go to college you become your own government,” she said, adding, “Being a student, that’s your job… Your goal should be to get your work done. Obviously you’re there to have fun, you’re there to make your friends, you’re there to figure out what you want to do, but classes are the driving force throughout the day.”
Berridge’s big scheduling epiphany was that she could get work done in between classes, unlike high school where the nighttime was for homework. “In college there’s a different dynamic, so because there’s more of a flexible schedule, I would go to the library in the middle of the day and get my work done and not necessarily see the nighttime as strictly for homework,” she said.
Roommates? They can be challenging, especially if you’ve never had one before. They often have different study habits, bedtime routines and wake up at different times, which can create friction. “It’s wishful thinking to think you’re just gonna move in and you’re gonna be best friends,” Lilly said.
For two months, Berridge ignored her roommate watching TikToks and listening without headphones at night, but finally asked her not to. It ended up being a quick, harmless conversation. “My one piece of advice for roommates is do not be passive-aggressive,” she said. “Just communicate openly.”
Gelles realized that her dorm room was not going to be a place where she could have alone time for a phone call or to decompress whenever she wanted, so she adapted. “I found different spots on campus that I knew I would have to myself … just [to] have alone time or go on walks or do other things outside of the room,” she said. “That’s probably the best way my roommate and I wouldn’t stay on top of each other.”
Liu and his roommate worked out some agreements for personal and study time. “If you have that mutual respect built up at the beginning it’s so much easier to have these conversations and to set boundaries,” he said.
The alumni warned not to let what’s on social media define you, and not to judge other people’s situations by what they are posting.
Gelles saw her friends at other schools looking like they were doing all kinds of great things and making fast friends early on, while she herself was “super uncomfortable.” She wondered, “Am I doing something wrong?” When she finally talked to others she found out “they were also struggling.” Her advice? “At the beginning of the year, especially, you just have to tune out the background noise and social media,” she said.
Noted Berridge, “No matter how happy you are as a person, no matter how flexible you are, no matter how great of a fit a school is for you, this is the biggest transition we’ve probably all made in the first 18 or so years of our lives.”
In their finals thoughts, the class of 2019 agreed that college is a time to take advantage of new experiences in and out of the classroom. They urged the class of 2020 not to be afraid to take the plunge and be who they were meant to be.
- · “There are so many cool classes that will be offered for you to take and I just think if you try something new, maybe once a semester just take a random class, you might fall in love with something you never knew you would end up liking,” Gelles said. “Really just do your best to try new things.”
- · “Sink in to what you are,” Lilly said. “There are so many options, at least at my school, different communities where you can get involved. Even if you have no knowledge on something just show up and talk to people. It’s really great. Just let it flow. Don’t feel the need to conform to anything. Just go for it.”
- · “In Scarsdale I feel like it’s pretty easy to get boxed in to the person you’ve been…” Rubin said. “I spent so long in Scarsdale and I’ve been the same Avery. Like in high school if somebody was on a Razor scooter down the hallway wearing a onesie I’d be like, ‘That’s really weird,’ but if I saw that in college I’d be like, ‘That’s really dope.’ You don’t know anyone. You have all these opportunities to figure out who you want to be. If you did some things you weren’t proud of, that’s OK. Leave them behind.”