Order Out Of

Hannah Smith and Justin McWilliams the night of their engagement. 

As human beings, we learn from our parents and peers many things through our lives, one of them being things that are ‘societal norms.’ Although many promote being an individual and unique, there are just some things that people expect you to do in a certain span of time.

Graduating from a four-year university in five years and being engaged and married before graduating are two things that are seen to be ‘out of order,’ but ultimately, it’s not a wrong thing to do. There is nothing wrong with doing these things, and there is no correct time table a person has to go by.

According to a study done by CNBC, only about 40 percent of college students will graduate in four years. This statistic really puts it into perspective, how few students really finish in accordance with the ‘finish in four’ standard. Also, campusexplorer.com stated that only seven percent of undergraduate students will be married while still enrolled at the university.

Senior psychology major Hannah Smith was recently engaged to her fiance Justin McWilliams in Sept., while still in school at East Carolina University. While the stigma of getting married in school exists, Hannah and Justin decided to defy the odds and further declare their love for one another.

“I think there’s a stigma that you’re too young and ‘not ready’ to get engaged while you’re in college,” Smith said. “I also think that there’s a stigma that you have to be on your own first, have fun (and) establish yourself in the real world outside of college before you can depend on someone else.”

Once they started dating, both Smith and McWilliams began to have conversations about getting engaged. It started off as casual and kind of a joke to talk about it, but when Justin made it clear that was his intention for the future, both parties began to seriously consider it.

Smith insisted that there wasn’t a ‘right time’ for the two, being that they both decided to take the next step of commitment to one another. For the couple, engagement and marriage was just something they knew would eventually happen in their relationship.

“I think that both of those stigmas (are) completely dependant on the people getting engaged and that the decision to get engaged should be based upon you and your significant other, not on the stigmas surrounding you,” Smith said.

Once they officially got engaged, Smith said that her family and friends’ reactions were predominantly positive and very encouraging. She felt that her family and friends knew her better than anyone else, and knew that she and Justin were mature enough to make the right decision. Both had talked and prayed about the topic extensively, so once Justin proposed, Smith said they were both as ‘prepared’ as they could be.

Smith offered up some advice to other students that may be in a situation similar to hers. She said that although they had some planning and conversation, most people are not ‘ready’ to be married to begin with.

She continued to offer that the decision lies not with any other friends or family, but ultimately with you and your partner.

“My opinion is that I don’t think anyone is ever ready for marriage. I don’t think you have to have everything together in order to get married. I think the sweetest part of marriage is figuring it out together, side by side.” Smith said. “I would say that regardless of any stigma or judgement that comes along with getting engaged early, this is a decision that needs to be made between you and your significant other, and all outside opinions aren’t invalid but they are not a priority over you and your partner’s reasoning.”

Like many undergraduate applicants, senior nursing major Cailyn Fuller didn’t get into nursing school when she first applied to the program in the fall of 2018. In light of this, she made the decision to move back home to Wilmington to live with her family, take classes online and ultimately save money while doing so.

Being at home, Fuller was able to nanny for a few families and substitute teach at her younger sister’s school. In addition to her work experience, Fuller said she was able to grow closer with her family and neighbors by moving back to her hometown.

“I definitely feel that this (moving back to Wilmington) was best for me,” Fuller said. “I would not have the opportunities that I did as much as it sucks not being able to graduate with my friends I made freshman year. I have been able to gain new ones who understand.”

Fuller continued, advising those who were to “get in her shoes” by being a fifth year students to not be embarrassed or ashamed.

“You have so many great things to offer and it's important to keep working hard to graduate but also to enjoy the experiences available to you,” Fuller said.

From personal experience, I decided to join The East Carolinian’s newspaper staff during the spring semester of 2019. I didn’t know about it until then and started to have an interest in writing and reporting on sports and news.

Most of my coworkers joined their freshman or sophomore years, so being the ‘odd man out’ as a junior was hard, but that just ensures me to work harder. Instead of having several years of knowledge and experience in reporting, I had to be a fast learner in the field and be able to do my job efficiently, and a lot of times I regret that I joined the organization so late.

The important thing is that I enjoy the time while I’m here and that stuff means very little in the big scheme of things.

Although society may have told us a certain way or timetable in order to do things, that doesn’t make it the only way to do it. Do what makes you happy, in whichever order or however long you please. In the end, the only opinion that matters is your own.

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