OPINION: The ‘best four years of your life’ don’t have to be in four years


Leo Woods

Suffolk leave of absence and withdrawal form.

In September 2018, I was a freshman at Suffolk, and over the moon about being a Ram.

I had gotten over my orientation jitters and was ready to go. I moved from the suburbs outside of Jacksonville, FL to the city that I quickly grew to call home. If things had gone to plan, I would be graduating in May.

But they didn’t, and now I’m graduating in 2023 instead.

This semester has already been challenging for me, and not because of all the coursework I have. It reminds me that I’m not following the timeline I created for myself. Of course, I know it’s not productive to be tough on myself for this. I’m not a failure for not graduating in four years – no one is.

But I do still give myself a hard time sometimes, because I “should” be graduating this year. I “should” be applying to grad school.

I’m not though. I took a year-long leave of absence that was the entirety of 2021.

I put the word “should” in quotations because life happens. When the going got rough, the last thing I wanted to think about was how I won’t be graduating in the timeframe that I had worked so hard to achieve.

I do think about that, though, and more than I’d like to. I think wistfully about what might have been. 

Whenever I take my student ID out of my wallet to scan it at an academic building, or just to look at my pre-freshman year picture to see how far I’ve come, I see the date “05/2022.”

Reading this date is a subtle reminder of what I entered college hoping for–graduating in precisely four years — versus reality.

I share this story because I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t get their undergrad degree in four years, and I’d like to reinforce that there’s no shame in that.

When I’m asked what year I am, I almost always say, “I’m a senior, well no, a junior.” Then the embarrassment comes in. I think, how did I forget what year I am? Or man, I wish I didn’t take that year off.

But I had to, and I did. And I’m slowly, but surely, realizing that’s fine with me.