A Student’s Guide to Growing Ripe

As students at the University of Chicago go through their daily lives, their small, seemingly inconsequential choices prepare them for their futures.

By Annie Dhal, Columnist

Consider the aisle of this grocery store, the one of your choice—Trader Joe’s (snacks, premade meals, questionable naming practices), Whole Foods (pretension, alternative options, whatever cashew-based egg replacement is in vogue), Hyde Park Produce (aisles of fresh fruit you might buy but will probably not get around to eating), etc.—and you will, unintentionally, be staring down the barrel of your future.

I, of course, don’t mean this literally. If you buy your hummus from Trader Joe’s today, it probably doesn’t mean you’ll be sentenced to a lifetime of the same. What I do want to discuss is the cosmic ritual of shopping for yourself, what this breakaway into adult responsibility implies, and how it might hit you like a ton of bricks between frozen foods and international snacks that nothing will ever be the same as it once was.

In previous columns, I’ve discussed the inevitable consequences of change and how college is perhaps the final boss of coming of age. The threat of this—the need to produce and survive in the realm of adulthood—looms so large in my mind that perhaps I can’t help but write about it, over and over. What answer or comfort I’m searching for remains to be seen, but recently, in my shift from the dorms to off-campus living, I have come across a little seed of truth. In college, at UChicago, I want to draw attention to the thousand minuscule ways we’re all growing up and how, despite the yawning cavern of our futures, we may be more prepared than we let ourselves think.

I come to this conclusion searching for broccoli at Whole Foods. The stems are hardly difficult to find, but it strikes me, suddenly, that I have become the sort of person who makes a beeline for broccoli on a shopping trip. From here I take the long way around, past carrots and off-season nectarines. I wonder at what point I began to prioritize vegetables and worry about scurvy and how eventually, I will have been to more grocery stores alone than in the back seat of my father’s car. More than anything, what is pressing to me is that I have not noticed this subtle change at all. It has come upon me like a silent wave, and I am now standing drenched but safe on the shore.

This is the strange thing about college, the rapid shift of environments. You might have moved to Hyde Park from a Chicago suburb or halfway across the world, but you relocated nevertheless. You changed support networks and geography and your daily schedule. You entered a world that, while inevitably still influenced by your childhood, is largely yours for the taking. The sheer potential of this statement is enormous and, consequently, burdensome. Broken down, however, the reality is this: Every day that you wake up here, you are faced with little choices—say, what grocery store to make edible, healthy, and fiscally responsible meals from—and your ability to make them is the most fundamental building block to your future whether or not you immediately see their effects.

I complain frequently about the difficulty of the University of Chicago, but now I recognize that somehow I have made it past the midpoint, into my third year—an incomplete feat, perhaps, but one that the sobbing first-year in her twin bed could hardly think to fathom. For each week that passes, I urge you to think about how you have survived the big moments, sure, but the little ones as well. Maybe you woke up to go on a run or tried a new RSO. Maybe you got past a disagreement with your roommates and cleaned your room and said no when you needed to say no. Maybe you made a good decision or a bad one, but my point is: You made it principally, vitally, by yourself.

If college is meant to be a period of reinvention or discovery, if it is meant to be a period of increased independence and important life events, let it also be a playing field for the eventual buildup of a million inconsequential choices. Let yourself relish in how far you’ve come—from your first day, from yesterday, from this morning—and recognize what an incredible thing that is.

On Wednesday, I have a friend over to finish off the detritus of that Whole Foods trip. We make salmon omelets for dinner. I burn the fish. We scrape the pan clean and settle for scrambled eggs. This is my little life, made up of smaller days and a thousand rain-soaked, sunlit moments. Sometimes you burn the fish and learn to do better next time. Sometimes you keep burning the fish, you buy too many apples, you keep calling your ex, you keep failing calculus. Somewhere in those tiny decisions, little lessons, you grow up. You figure out how to face the world. You get up and greet it, your full and beautiful future, with open arms.

Annie Dhal is a third-year in The College.