The following article was originally given as a short speech at a community supper at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont., where Maia Fujimoto lived in residence for two years.
Looking back on my years at university, I am always brought back to my first day at Grebel. It was a hot, sweaty day. I remember seeing crowds of students already mingling with each other and thinking, “How do they seem to already know each other?” Since living at Grebel, I have now learned what “the Mennonite Game” is and that first day makes more sense.
But this day wasn’t only memorable because it was my first day of university. It was memorable because I was terrified, not knowing how I was ever going to get through the next four years.
In my first year of university, I was an introvert with social anxiety. Places like Grebel, although warm and welcoming, seem more suited for people who are extroverts. This makes it hard sometimes for someone like me to put myself out there and let my voice be heard.
During my first year, I let fear make my decisions for me. I was convinced that I needed to be practical. By this I mean that there were big things that I wanted to apply for on campus at Grebel. There were clubs that I wanted to join and talent shows that I wanted to perform in. There were even small things, like making the effort to wander the hall, that I didn’t do. It seemed so far out of reach that there was no point even trying because of all the bad things that could potentially happen.
Then I got it in my head that, because I was quiet, I would never be able to make friends, succeed at school or fit in at Grebel. These fears progressed to a point where they got the best of me and almost made me not want to be in university anymore. All I wanted to do was run away, because that would have been easier than staying.
Needless to say, I was exhausted. I was exhausted from being afraid of doing things or participating in things that I knew I would love to do. I sat down and thought to myself, I want to be happy, I want to try new things and I want to do things that I love. So slowly, very slowly, with help, I started making choices. I made the choice to bring my fear and anxieties along with me, rather than let them slow me down or stop me from doing the things that I love and that I know will make me happy.
I love music, so the first choice I made was to join the chapel choir. I come from a Roman Catholic family and didn’t know much about Mennonites or Anabaptism before I came to Grebel. What better way to learn than to join a choir that attended every chapel service? It was my own little victory.
I started actively hall-wandering into whichever room had an open door so I could chat with the students inside. Some of those random hall-wanderings brought about some of the best friendships that are so precious and are still continuing to grow today. I live with most of those people now in a house off campus.
I wanted to join the Grebel student council. I didn’t know if I would get voted in, and I almost didn’t apply, but I tried and it was an awesome semester working as one of the associate representatives.
I went on an exchange to Ireland for five months in my third year. Although the idea of the exchange was terrifying, because it meant being away from my friends and family, the minute I got on the plane it wasn’t that scary anymore.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything about my first-year university experience. Instead of regretting that I let fear make some decisions for me, I think fear can push me to do better, to be better and to be happy. My first year was an amazing learning experience that helped shape me and propel me to be the person I am today.
I don’t really know what I will do after graduation. What I do know is that I will take my fears along with me, constantly reminding myself that it is usually the things that scare us that turn out to be the most worthwhile.
Maia Fujimoto, 22, recently graduated from the University of Waterloo with an honours bachelor of arts degree in peace and conflict studies. She is originally from Mississauga, Ont.