“Everything was bright and shiny and new, but almost too bright and shiny and new,” said Kelsey Downs, an English Education graduate, describing her first days at NC State.
It’s a shared feeling many first-years experience but, for Downs, joining a new initiative back in 2014 helped bring the NC State shine in focus. “I’ve definitely found my niche, my place, my home at NC State.”
Downs and 40 others are the first graduating class of the “I AM NC State” Project, a collaborative Instagram account created by New Student Programs under the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. Down’s inaugural class took over the account back in 2014 as #NCState18. Since then, the account has showcased each incoming first-year class by giving a select number of them full creative control. They post what’s important to them and thousands follow along as they experience their first-year at NC State, the good and challenging moments.
“I didn’t know that four years down the road I’d be reminded of these posts. It’s bittersweet,” said Matthew Wright, a Graphic Design graduate who participated in the account along with Downs, “Getting to look back, it shows that – from the beginning, from the time you get to the university – you have opportunities to make something that lasts. That’s something that I’m grateful for.”
These 41 former first-years are now in their last year and they’ve grown more than they ever imagined back when the keys to the I AM NC State account was handed to them. Some #NCState18 photographers became valedictorians, others became presidents of prominent clubs and organizations, while others became something more – their true selves: “You can sometimes feel like you’re one of thousands,” said Elise Saenger-Heyl, an Elementary Education graduate who also participated, “I think from then until now, I’ve got more of a purpose for my life and more comfortable in what I’m going to do.”
We followed #NCState18 as they navigated the challenges of their college journey. Now, as they move on to their bright futures, some are leaving advice for those just starting:
“Call your mother. Make friends with whoever you sit next to. Always go to office hours.”
“Try to follow your passions. I wouldn’t be able to do what I did if it wasn’t for passion.”
“Don’t be afraid to go to events or eat by yourself.”
“A lot of the time I was convinced that this was too big or too hard. Keep Going.”
“Be uncomfortable. And get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“Try new things. The only regret I have is not trying enough.”