A Graduating #Celiac's Top 12 Lessons from #College

As the holidays creep closer and Christmas music starts filling the air, you may have the classic carol, Twelve Days of Christmas, repeating in your ears. This college celiac, though, can't escape a different tune: the knowledge that, in twelve days, I'll be flying back to Colorado Springs as a college graduate.

In honor of my last Monday of undergrad, I thought I'd create my own "12 Days" of College Graduation post - by sharing twelve lessons I've learned from my three and a half years of college so far. 

casey the college celiac

So grab a cup of hot cacao and keep reading to find out the twelve lessons every incoming college freshman (especially incoming college celiacs!) should know

1. College will be so much harder than you expected. 

I think most students enter college while wearing Hollywood's rose-colored glasses. For years, we've imagined how college would be based on the shows we've watched and books we've read. Yet, most reenactments probably don't emphasize how freshmen travel in packs before splintering into their own cliques or how homesickness covers pillows with tears every night. 

They certainly don't show what happens when you're diagnosed with celiac disease months before freshman year. Even my doctors didn't expect me to end up in the hospital days after my eighteenth birthday. I wasn't the only freshman who suffered unforeseen health problems, either. A close friend of mine even had to leave college for one semester because of a medical emergency. 

casey the college celiac
Gotta love the NG tube throwback...
The truth about college? As great as it can be, college often features many more challenges than the media depicts - or you ever imagined

2. You may not study what you think. 

First, I was undeclared. Then a writing major, a writing major with a Spanish minor, back to just a writing major. and, now, a writing major with a women's studies minor. In one of my classes freshman year, we needed to design a "four year plan" - basically a chart with every class we would (and needed to) take to graduate. At the time, I was terrified I wouldn't get it "right."

As the years passed, though, I tinkered with my class chart each semester. I'd take Linguistics instead of Grammar; Women's Writers second semester of my senior year instead of the first. My "plan" was fluid - and so were my academic goals and identity. And despite the wrong turns and wasted money on books (like for the Advanced Spanish class I lasted two weeks in), all of those choices got me the green robe I'll be wearing for graduation.

3. Cut the umbilical chord at your own pace. 

As a freshman, I called my mom at least once a day - and often more. Since I was lucky enough to go to college nearby, I also visited often on the weekends. It was my safe, familiar place amid the crazy uncertainty that is freshman year. And considering the health battles I had freshman year, I don't regret all the times I chose family over "life-changing" freshman events. 

casey the college celiac
All of my support groups!
Now? As a senior, I call every few days...but, having built my own local support group of friends, my mom isn't the only number I can  dial for help. College is often lauded as the institution to turn needy high schoolers into self sufficient adults. Don't feel bad for leaning on your folks more than other freshmen do, though. We all grow - in ourselves and apart from our previous "home" - at different speeds. 

And that umbilical chord that one student doesn't need from day one? It could keep you alive until you're ready to step out on your own during sophomore year. 

4. You'll value challenging classes in the long run. 

In my college's Writing department, "Intro to Linguistics" is considered equivalent to BioChem for biology majors: it's meant to weed out dedicate students from the rest. Without a doubt, that was the hardest writing class I've ever taken. I memorized all of the phonemes of the human language (symbols and sounds). Hell, I learned what a "phoneme" even is. 

At times, I got so frustrated that I would throw down the textbook, take a walk around campus and stare at the ocean and say, "The ocean doesn't care if I know linguistics!" Yet, looking back, linguistics was the most rewarding course of college. It showed me that I can do - study, understand and explain back - so much more than I thought previously possible. Even more important, I proved to myself that I would never give up - no matter how insane the homework assignment! 

5. People won't understand you - and that's OK.

I'll never forget one of my first dinners at PLNU during my freshman year. I was unhealthily thin, picking at a loaded salad - the only safe gluten free option - and watching enviously as fellow freshmen devoured cheesy slices of pizza. At that moment, one gorgeous freshman girl looked at me and said, "I wish I had celiac disease so I could be skinny like you."

casey the college celiac
Weird and proud - even in a prom dress!
Even though years have passed, I still think of that offhand comment (and explore it in my writing, as you might recognize). Now, though, I don't imagine yelling about of the pain I was in. I don't imagine describing how I would love to have the girl's curves. Instead, I'm at peace. I'll educate people on celiac disease as much as I can, but not everyone is going to understand it - or me. And as long as the important people do, that's all that matters. 

6. You'll become BFFs with people you never expected

My sophomore year of college, I was desperate for my own kitchen. At that point, I was cooking all of my own meals since my college cafeteria couldn't guarantee celiac safe food. My only shot? Getting into an on-campus apartment, which required four other girls. I had two friends who were game...and then asked the sweet, quiet girl across the hall and the studious, funny history major in my GE biology class

Those four girls? They're honestly my best (gal) friends on campus - and, miraculously, we all get along. I've told them secrets I thought I'd never share, and we've discovered we all have (hidden or not-so-hidden) wild senses of humor. I was looking for roommates, and I found soul sisters. That's one of the best surprises colleges can offer. 

casey the college celiac
Them gals!
7. At the same time, you'll lose friends you thought you'd have forever. 

My sophomore year, I thought I found "my group." We were all writing majors, besides a few strays. We shared classes, late night burrito runs and Lord of the Rings marathons

Now I don't talk to most of them - and it's better that way. As hard as it can be to accept, people are constantly growing and changing in college...and sometimes they grow apart. Sometimes, I miss them - but that's really just me missing who we used to be. And how can I want back what I had when now is just as good, just totally different

8. Working hard is worth it. Period. 

For better or for worse, I'm Type A - and while burning myself out has bit me in the butt multiple times, my work has paid off (sometimes literally) in so many other ways. 

Being a good student doesn't just give you good grades. It opens up the chance for department-recommended scholarships; for jobs that are flexible with your schedule and health needs; for talking to teachers like friends and mentors, instead of just instructors. I've experienced plenty of blessings my college career, but I also know I paved the way to several of those surprises. 

9. You may fall in love...and out of it. 

Especially in a Christian college like mine, the phrase "Mrs. degree" is common. Basically, it's the idea that women only attend college to snag a man - and earn that "ring by spring" (of senior year). In some ways, I understand why dating and education correlate. Sophomore year was the first time I experienced dating and a crush and love...and heartbreak almost two years after. 

casey the college celiac

Walk into college knowing that there are hundreds of amazing people to meet - and even a few who could earn your heart. In my mind, having a relationship was an additional class (a four-unit one, according to campus myth!) that came with its own lessons and tests. But it was a class that came best by surprise when I was fully enjoying the rest of my life. 

10. Advocate for yourself - always. 

I won't lie and say that it's easy going to school as a celiac. Unless you have an extremely educated or accommodating cafeteria, you may be forced to make all of your own meals. Not only does this require a lot of equipment (aka, a kitchen!), it also takes up a good chunk of time...and when you're taking 17 units and working two jobs, that time may be tight!

The most important step you can take, though, is always advocating for your health. Work with your cafeteria to set up acceptable accommodations. Discuss crumb protocol with your college roommates. Be open with your teachers about when you're struggling with health problems. People usually want to help, but you have to ask and explain how they can first. 

11. Know when to say, "Yes" to an adventure - no matter how unlike you it is. 

When I entered college, I wanted to make memories but I didn't have many goals besides that. Since then, I've: 

  • Dragged my best friend to her first (and way too advanced) yoga class
  • Tried my first raw, vegan restaurant...and loved it. 
  • Stayed talking with a friend down at the cliffs until dark. 
  • Taught my own class...at my college and as Senior Editor of Entity Magazine
  • Worn a variety of bizarre outfits, ranging from a fake mustache and tutu to a yoga made out of bed sheets. 
  • Too many other adventures to list. 
casey the college celiac
From freshman year in the top left and onward!
Honestly, I've experienced countless highs and lows throughout college. I'm feeling both now as I prepare for the bittersweet moment of attending PLNU classes for the last time. And while I've certainly turned down plenty of invitations (usually in place of sleep, Netflix or eating!), the ones I did enjoy gave me the exact "out-of-my-comfort-zone" growth I needed. 

12. Know that it will go by too fast.

Every time your Monday morning alarm sounds, you'll probably groan, "It's only Monday!" And you'll keep saying that for weeks, months, and even years - until you can only say, "It's the last Monday..."

As challenging as this semester felt, I can't believe it's already over. People say that time flies when you're having fun, but that's apparently also true when you're having fun while simultaneously dying from classes

I suppose, besides wanting to help future college (celiac) freshmen, I wrote this post to help me hold onto this semester a little longer. To remember that, as much as it may hurt to let go of college now, the good memories I'll always have are worth the sting. 

casey the college celiac
Looking back as I move forward...
And like the Twelve Days of Christmas keeps repeating each previous line with every new one, I hope to use these lessons of my past to sing - and live - an even more beautiful future. 

What did you learn from college (so far)? Can you relate to any of these lessons? Tell me below! 


  1. College definitely went by way too fast for me! Looking back, they were the easiest years of my life but I didn't appreciate it at the time! It feels like a life time ago now...

    1. It already feels like a lifetime ago and I just graduated, haha! Crazy how time flies!

  2. And you came out alive, thriving, and with so much growth! xo

  3. It's awesome to see these milestones and memories! Congrats on Graduating!!


    1. Thanks so much for the kind words Hayle. Happy New Years!


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