The Crimson White

A frightening reflection I didn’t want to see

Matthew Gillham

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I used to cross the quad every morning, grotesquely navigating the sidewalks that seem to point in every direction except the one that I was going, and thank God for letting me attend this University. It was a sort of habit for me, a continual reminder of this University as evidence of divine provision.

And then one day, in the spring of my sophomore year, I stopped.

Maybe it was the Greek/Independent divide or the lack of all sorts of diversity or just that I was still struggling to place myself onto campus. Whatever the reason, the picturesque image of UA that I had credulously grasped had finally begun to chip. The utopia that I wanted—or maybe just pretended—UA to be never existed.

Throughout my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, I held firmly to this idea that amidst a life of messiness, there could be things in this world that were unblemished. Simple. Clean. I wanted UA to be that for me.

But thankfulness steadily turned to bitterness. As in all things, an image of perfection’s only possible if you keep your distance, and I had become too close to UA. College became less about finding an ideal four years, but instead more about trying to mend things that were uneasy to deal with.

And certainly the list of things that are disheartening about this campus does not scream brevity.

But the real kicker, the real reason for my discomfort, was that as I stared through this newfound window into the reality of UA’s messiness, a faded, muddled reflection of myself became more and more clear.

UA isn’t frustrating or irritating or vexing because it’s new to me, or new to you. It’s all those things because it’s what we’ve always known. It’s who we are. It’s who I am.

Like, for example, that I preach love but can hate so deeply. That I hold firm to morals but repeatedly prove myself a hypocrite.

That I automatically assume I’m right and they’re wrong. That the old adage of judging yourself on your intentions but others on their actions holds true.

That I’m frustrated with and openly condemning of the selfishness of others, but often act so selfishly myself.

UA is painful because it reminds me of all of this, of my enduring fallibility. Look long enough, and you’ll see it too. And I don’t like it.

Yet I can choose to hide, to lie to myself, to continue the witch hunts of our public-shaming culture, or I can embrace that UA can be where I found some of my closest friends and some of my most painful memories. That faculty at UA have impacted me so greatly and that, at times, administration has left me disappointed.

But most of all, that I’m as messy and paradoxical as this campus, and that my internal struggles are just as vigorous as the ones here.

In coming to these terms, I began to free myself from the perfectionism I had come to require. The certainty I held about the broad-stroking narratives I swore this campus was, in all its faults, started to fall. I began to recognize that I excused myself from the standard that I held this campus to.

That the labels that I defiantly attached to people on campus, defining strict moral grounds of right and wrong, might not only be faulty, but also dangerous. That the biggest battles between good and evil might not be between 20 year olds, but within them. That lofty words like “progress” and “change” and “the right side of history” fit actions far more aptly than they fit people. That linearity might be the most foreign concept to the things we feel are the most cut and dry.

Staying true to form, it’s been impossible to tie the neat bow on my four years that I’ve always envisioned. Organizations I’ve invested so much time into don’t look much different than before I was there. Friendships haven’t all gotten the goodbyes I’ve hoped for. I even slept through my final college class. So, I expect this article to be no exception to the rule.

Challenge this campus, challenge your peers and strive for progress, but don’t let yourself believe the rapt lie that you’re above it all.

UA—like an imperfect family you long to shake but are unable, the two of us can’t definitively be separated, even if I won’t be walking your sidewalks anymore. But if I can look on parts of myself with empathy, I can do the same with you. 

Matthew Gillham is a senior majoring in economics. He has written for The Crimson White since August 2016. He has served as a Young Life Leader and as CFO of Forza Financial. After graduation, he will be working for EY in Dallas in their consulting division.

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A frightening reflection I didn’t want to see