Make the most of opportunities that pop up while in school

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I had always played it safe.

I didn't stay up late on school nights in high school. I finished my homework early. I carefully planned my days and made to-do lists in my spare time.

My world of order was turned upside down the day I moved into my closet-sized dorm room as a freshman at Michigan State University. I was given an itinerary of mandatory events for the week and stared in shock as my roommate proceeded to hit the town before our 8 a.m. meetings.

She was my polar opposite. And I was horrified.

Fast forward four years and my uptight freshman-self wouldn't even recognize me. If there's anything I'm taking away from my all too short time at MSU, it's that I'll never have a better four years. I have absolutely no regrets. But none of it would have been possible if I hadn't stopped planning my every move and started taking it easy.

The first big step: joining a sorority.

This was terrifying, but I quickly got sucked into the social life and the sisterhood, and in the course of one week I had 100 new friends. The Greek system is not for everyone. The point is I made the effort. Some of my closest friends resulted from that decision.

Fraternities, sports teams or clubs, they all throw you into something new, with people you will love and maybe hate. Four years goes fast, and it's easy to wait "one more semester" before getting involved. Then by the time graduation rolls around, you run the risk of walking across the stage and realizing all you did was sit in a dorm room studying.

As someone with strict parents who were even more serious about good grades, I realize the importance of skipping the occasional dance party to ace an 8 a.m. exam. Keeping up with classes, a social life and work wasn't easy. I believe that balancing it all is a skill, a talent learned after four years of balancing classes for my two majors with sorority date parties and formals, and 60-hour workweeks at my college paper. But it can be done.

Taking advantage of all the places to live on a college campus also contributed to my experience.

I stepped it up a notch when I decided I didn't want only to socialize with my 100 sorority sisters; I wanted to live with them.

Prior to the move, I had lived in a college dorm room and an apartment. Being kept up at night or having my things moved was enough to send me into a panic.

Pushing all those red flags aside, I moved into my sorority house the summer before my junior year. I lived with about 50 women. Every night, I went to sleep in something called a dormer, a big room on the third floor of our house with a bunk bed for every student who lived there. It ended up being the best sleep-- and the smartest move -- of my college career.

After I moved out of my version of "Legally Blonde," I got an apartment with some of the women I had become close with during the past three years.

From the moment I stepped foot on campus as a freshman, I was determined to live in a different place each year. In my mind, that's what college was about. Doing everything and sometimes even things I was almost sure I'd hate.

One thing I was sure I'd love was studying abroad. I persuaded my parents to let me go on what was essentially a six-week vacation to the British Isles in the summer between my sophomore and junior year.

Travel somewhere. It doesn't matter if it's the Middle East or somewhere in the U.S. for an alternative spring break project. Taking trips with people you don't know, to someplace you've never been and know nothing about, can change the way you feel about places and the people there forever.

It's not something I was 100 percent comfortable with, but then again, neither was anything I did in college.

Like working for my college paper.

I slowly weaned myself off food, sleep and any normal social life as I worked nearly 60-hour weeks. I devoted my life to my job, and I've never been happier, or more stressed.

Getting hung up on my lack of sleep, unconventional schedule and unnaturally high stress levels would have been easy. And it happened. Sometimes. But I learned to deal with it, and if I hadn't, I wouldn't have realized how much I actually like being stressed out, love being awake when everyone else is asleep, and miss calling Hershey's Kisses breakfast.

Not everyone will do the things I did in college, but others still will have just as good an experience. But for me, it wouldn't have as memorable if I hadn't taken advantage of what was around me.

Don't sleep. Have chocolate for breakfast. Live with total strangers. And spend your time with both the people you love and those you don't.

Playing it safe is fine, but it doesn't compete with taking chances.

Meredith Skrzypczak, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, graduated this year from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., with majors in journalism and international relations. She can be reached at .


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