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Upon first consideration, I, an incoming freshman from Memphis, Tennessee, have nothing in common with Kirsten Raymonde, the protagonist of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Kirsten Raymonde perseveres while her world crumbles around her thanks to the Georgia Flu; she watches worldly concerns, such as fame, money, and luxury, become obsolete and replaced by the necessity to survive. But a life based on survival alone is lacking. This thirst for more is why, in Station Eleven, the Traveling Symphony forms. In a world defined by loss, Kirsten and the other members of the Traveling Symphony remind people that there is beauty and richness in life when you strive for thriving as opposed to surviving. This lesson, however, does not stop with the survivors in Station Eleven; surviving at the University of Tennessee is not enough. I want to prosper and succeed.
Soon enough, my life will be drastically different as I move from Memphis, Tennessee, my home for the past eighteen years, to Knoxville, Tennessee. I will leave my parents’ house for a dorm room to live with someone who is not family. I will swap homecooked meals for dining hall food, and I will transition from a small private school to a large public university. Admittedly starting college is far less life-altering than surviving a pandemic, but the motto “Survival is Insufficient” still stands. I can easily survive my freshman year. I am mature enough to wake up, eat, go to class, exercise, study, and sleep without my parents telling what to do and when to do it, but I would not be truly living if my life were defined by these events. If anything, I’d be a “high-functioning sleepwalker” (St. John Mandel 163) as Dahlia in Station Eleven might say. I want to be able to reflect on college and remember something more meaningful than just my classes – I want to reflect on genuine relationships, spontaneous adventures, stimulating conversations, and teaching mistakes. The Traveling Symphony exists to remind the survivors that art enriches life past survival alone, and as I transition to life as a college student, I will prioritize the opportunities that turn the University of Tennessee from a school to a home. First off, I completed Ignite Outdoors; I chose to participate in Ignite Outdoors because of I enjoy hiking, camping, and paddle boarding and figured that it’d be a unique way to meet likeminded people. I arrived knowing no one and insecure in my outdoors abilities; just like Kirsten, I was alone and anxious, but that quickly faded. I camped, hiked, and spoke to my team for hours; we survived together, and as Ignite continued, we progressed from strangers to friends. Ignite is special to me because it gave me a group friends who enriched my experience as a UT student before even my first day of class. Ignite was the first of many steps of immersing myself into UT, and I firsthand know the benefits. I dedicated time and energy to participating and Ignite, and in return, I received memories, friends, experience, and confidence to further involve myself in UT and the outdoors program. Once I arrive on campus, there will be many new ways to involve myself: Greek life, clubs, classes, student ministries, volunteer work, and more. These opportunities, if I involve and apply myself, will be what enhances my UT experience past the point of survival alone. I will have a purpose and a place at a University that over 20,000 people call home, and not everyone can say that. Though my situation is very different from Kirsten Raymonde’s in Station Eleven, if I follow her example by being brave, open, and purposeful and refusing to settle for survival, I will do more than scrape by at the University of Tennessee. I will thrive.
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