Hannah Croft of Santa Rosa, who just completed her freshman year at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, leads a tour of prospective students and parents last week through the campus. Photo by Lara Choma

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series about freshman college life by Hannah Croft, who graduated last year from Santa Rosa High School and is attending Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.


So I’m done with my first year of college. Does that sound weird to you? Because I really can’t wrap my head around that idea. A year ago, I was literally carefree, a freshly graduated camp counselor whose biggest concern was what pair of tattered running shoes I was going to wear that day.
Now, I’ve managed to survive freshman year, and I’ve managed to have a ton of fun and learn a lot — not just about journalism or public speaking or statistics or anything like that, but about myself.
I’ve told you before that freshman year is a really transformative time in your life, but I never imagined I would have such an introspective year. After writing all those “tell me about yourself” essays during college application season, I thought I knew everything there was to know about me. I was wrong.
I’ve changed. I’ve learned about myself. And I’ve left this year with a newfound appreciation for the world around me.
The biggest influence in my transformation of sorts was my involvement on campus. I’m a university ambassador and an orientation leader — two jobs that forced me out of my comfort zone. During my interview for Poly Reps, the ambassador group, I defined my life with a copy of my favorite book, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” I told the interview panel that I wanted to surround myself with people that made me feel like the main character in the book felt — infinite. And I wanted to make others feel the same way. They smiled. One cried. And I left that day hoping I had made them feel a little more infinite than they felt before they met me.
This brings me to the most important thing I learned this year: All I want is to make people happy. I want to put a smile on people’s faces and impact them in a positive way. I used to think I wanted to change the world. And I still do, don’t get me wrong. But with every tour I give I realize that if I can change one person’s mind or change the way one person looks at their day, I’m making a difference. If I can affect one person’s life, then I change their world. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do: Give people a reason to smile when they go to bed at night.
With that I learned something else. I am so completely, unbelievably lucky. Every day I wake up at 7, the sun creeping through my slightly cracked window, and I go to classes I love, surrounded by people I love. After I go to class I eat lunch and relax with people I love. Some days I give a tour, some days I have 7 a.m. meetings. But every day, I go to bed happy. And even though everyone deserves to feel that way I know they don’t. I know there are people in the world who aren’t happy. I know there are people whose mothers wouldn’t tolerate daily calls, emails and text messages asking if the dress I’m wearing works with a specific pair of shoes or if she could bring my best friend from back home a cupcake on her birthday. I tell people on my tours that if I could, I would write life a big thank-you note. It’s been pretty generous, and I’m still trying to figure out how to pay forward all I’ve been given.
At Santa Rosa High, I led a double life, splitting myself between being a zany camp counselor and a down-to-earth student. They two never mixed, so I was always hiding just a pinch of my personality. When I arrived at Cal Poly last September, I was nervous. Nervous that I wouldn’t be liked or that things wouldn’t go exactly as I’d hoped. My worries were put to rest within two hours of saying goodbye to my parents.
Never in my life have I been more myself. I am surrounded by people with whom my camp persona meshes with my student persona. I learned to like myself. I learned that the people I actually want to spend time with are the ones who like the side of me that I always reserved for camp. I learned that I shouldn’t have to stifle anything about my personality to be accepted. So with no inhibitions, and no reservations and often no filter, I am myself and I like it that way. The magical thing is, my friends like me, too.
I’m heading home this week and I’ll pick up again my life in Santa Rosa. I’m so excited. I’ve been homesick for the past month, aching to sleep in my bed and watch my brother play baseball. With each semester school letting go of their students and some of my closest friends returning home, I had more and more reasons to go home.
But as I pack up my room in my residence hall I realize that I now have two homes, and two families. I have my feet in two different ponds at the same time, and I like it that way. And the greatest thing about San Luis Obispo is that I can take the things I’ve learned here everywhere. So thank you, Cal Poly, Trinity Hall, Poly Reps, Week of Welcome, friends, family and life for twisting and turning and challenging me in every way possible. Because life is beautiful. And I can’t stress enough how happy or lucky I am to have experienced all this. And how fortunate I am that it’s far from over.
So here’s to an amazing year gone by. To new friends and a newfound family and returning to the beauty that is Santa Rosa with a new perspective on life. Here’s hoping I can spread it around.