I was always told to “strive for perfection,” but what really is perfection? Do I have to be flawless? Do I have to be selfless? Do I have to look great, be great and feel great? The definition of perfection is something that I have always struggled with. I want to say that I have the answer after all my time at college, but I do not because the definition of perfection is ever-changing.

We as humans need food, water and shelter, but we also strive for connections. Personally, I have always based my self-worth on my connections with others. If people were annoyed with me, I hated myself. If people were happy with me, then I was happy. My time in college has taught me to base my self-worth and self-esteem on myself and not others.

Coming into college, I held myself high, came in with great friends and was excited to start my new life. I thought that I was a changed man just by picking up my stuff and moving four hours away from home.

Boy, was I wrong.

After countless nights of crying alone, I realize that change comes from a lot more than that. This was achieved through a lot of time spent learning on my own and reflecting on my experiences. Those experiences, both negative and positive, are those that have shaped me into who I am today. I chose to learn from my experiences in order to not make similar mistakes, and to realize that I am only human and am bound to make mistakes.

My freshman year was tough. Not only was I trying to come into my own as a person, but I also had many flaws that made me anxious and insecure. Now combine that with a crazy bunch of roommates, classes and COVID-19, and it all came crumbling down. By my sophomore year, I was a hollow version of myself, unable to feel anything. I’m trying to put my best foot forward and make a change in my life. My social circle shrank to only two people. That year, I really learned to find happiness in myself and not through others. I learned that being happy with no one allowed me to be happy with everything else in my life.

My largest changes came going into junior year. I joined the Pipe Dream staff as the Assistant Photo Editor and moved into a house with seven other people. By learning to be happy by myself, I was truly able to enjoy a much busier schedule and social life. I was met by some of the kindest people in the world, who truly helped me heal further. Seeing how kind and smart they were motivated me to push myself even further. I was actually able to smile in the mirror when I looked at myself. Even going into senior year, I focused more on improving my body and mind and challenging myself at every opportunity, whether it was through the gym, learning new languages or reading.

Going back to the original question, “What defines perfection?” I like to think that the answer is that perfection is more than being the best. Perfection means acknowledging our flaws. Perfection means accepting our flaws. Perfection is being able to look at the world with open eyes and a nonjudgmental attitude. Perfection means not letting the words of others impact your self-worth. It is being able to enjoy both the highs and lows of life and accepting the process. This definition might change as I grow, but that’s the point! We will constantly be changing as we are constantly experiencing, so I cannot wait for the time when my definition of perfection will change!

By going through these experiences, I was able to grow and change. I lost a lot of myself through the process, but I am truly grateful for this process and the end result of college. I let people define me my entire life. It’s time for me to define myself.

My time at Pipe Dream started my freshman year in the spring of 2020. Right before everything went off the rails, I was able to meet some fun people like Kim, who taught me how to write articles and also shoot photos. Her kindness made me pursue photography on a deeper level. Using the cameras in the office was not enough, and I was able to buy my own camera.

As a writer for a short time, I grew my writing skills and style, and was able to me to meet new people on staff and make some amazing memories, from the people that shadowed me to the stories I wrote about.

Starting my junior year as the Assistant Photo Editor, I got to work under Harry. Seeing his passion for photography and skills really inspired me to put in the effort to grow my own. I put in the time to learn every setting on my camera, to know it in and out. I was able to improve my craft to the point where I can comfortably change the settings of my camera in any environment, and have been able to become Photo Editor for this year.

Being in this position has been such a wild ride. I was able to take my skills and train people on how to use a camera from the ground up. I had many fun meetings with my staff as well as the team of photographers on Pipe Dream (even if they don’t take assignments ever). With classes being overwhelming at times, it was always such a nice reminder that I would have to go into production and make some great memories.

Pipe Dream has always been a place for me to lean on whenever I was struggling. I was always able to come into the office at any time and just chat with anyone or start working on editing photos. With that being said, I would like to spend some time thanking some people in my life who have truly impacted me.

I would like to thank my family. Without my mom and dad, I would not be where I am today. They were there with me throughout the entire experience. They were always there for me during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pushed me to help myself more and more. I am truly grateful and proud to call you my parents.

I would like to thank my friends back home, Aidan, Ryan and Matt. We may not see each other as often as we would like, but our friendship is a lifelong force that has taught me what to look for in friends. Thanks to you, I look for someone who can make me smile but also challenge me intellectually.

I would like to thank my two friends from my sophomore year, Mark and Cameron. Without you guys that year, I do not know if I would be here today. Mark, the time we spent living in the same room was fun. Even if we were silent for days, I loved being able to spend hours and hours talking with you about literally anything. It was a change of experience from my freshman year, and being able to live with you has changed me for the better. Cameron, I love that we met randomly while walking to the orchestra together, and from there it blossomed into random phone calls, late-night dining hall meetups or watching movies and talking about life in my car. You made me feel comfortable with who I am and helped me accept myself.

I would like to thank my friends from 51 Oak St. for making my junior year such an adventure. Being able to see how mature, fun and intelligent you guys are and the way you accepted both Mark and I and made us feel so welcomed and wanted. I am truly proud to have spent my time with you, and I am so lucky that Chloe was looking for roommates in the same class we had.

I would like to thank Caspar, Kai and the little time I spent with Jacob. Working at Pipe Dream on photos this last semester has been so much fun. Our staff chat is always blowing up about assignments, and Pedro Pascal will always be an unforgettable memory. I am so proud to leave this section in your hands! I know you guys will do great things and make it even better.

I would like to thank Harry, Sam, Jack, Hamza and Bella. This past year, working with you all has been so much fun. I loved looking forward to our productions just so we could chat and mess with each other.

Harry, in my junior year as your assistant, I was truly inspired by your passion for photography, and it let me push myself farther than I thought I could have ever accomplished.

Sam, our times inside and outside the office have been amazing and unforgettable. Even if you are from New Jersey, own similar clothes to me and left me on Halloween, you are such an inspiration and a kind soul that I will always remember.

Jack, I did not get to work with you directly, but going out and chatting with you in the office was amazing. The way you ran your section inspired me to push myself harder with mine.

Hamza, you were an amazing Editor-in-Chief this year and made so many changes to Pipe Dream that will carry for years to come. You were such a great friend to have this year and to work with!

Bella, we started by sitting across from each other because we were forced to, but with every production, we grew closer and closer to being, in your words, “besties.” I am glad that we were able to meet in this final year and become really close friends!

Michael Golann is a senior majoring in psychology and is Photo Editor. He was Assistant Photo Editor from 2021-22.