Matt Cotter stands in front of a University of Nevada, Reno wallpaper
Matt Cotter, 2016 – First year of college.
Matt Cotter, 2020, sits in front of some trees
Matt Cotter, 2020 – Last year of college

If I could do it over again, I would. 

That’s what I thought when I began writing this.

You know, I should’ve seen the writing on the wall earlier. Senior year has had a very bittersweet aura about it. Last summer, the video store I frequented in my home town in California—Silver Screen Video, the last holdout against a barrage of overpriced streaming service garbage, one of the last elements of a dying subculture: the locally owned video store—announced its closure. They weren’t losing money, but the fight to keep their heads above water felt ultimately pointless. 

Then I got back to Reno, and these losses continued: Bibo. GourMelt. Hub University. The U. All the freshman year haunts were gone, gradually. It was… weird. It was as though I had caught this last act of a particular era in both Petaluma and Reno. A last stand of local flavor against generic urban developments and corporate chains. It was like the world was saying “The time to move on is coming.” 

Then my senior year abruptly ended in March due to COVID-19. It didn’t technically end. The work didn’t, anyways. But it was essentially over. Now “summer” begins. Summer meaning the same thing we’ve been doing thus far for most of the year—but hotter outside. 

So this has caused me to reflect a lot. There’s always a bittersweetness to entering the next stage in your life: what are you going to do? Where will you go? Will these memories be kept alive within you or slowly fade with time? Will life get better than this? Worse? Or stay the same? I now remember that feeling when graduating high school… the nostalgia, the fear and sadness of leaving it all behind, the uncertainty (though now that uncertainty is even worse, considering I don’t know when my career opportunities will even start back up). But most of all, I think the most profound and worrying feeling is that perturbing wonder if I did it right. Did I miss out? Would I do it differently if I could go back to freshman year and try again—knowing what I know now, and knowing how my college years end? 

I think, in many ways, I would.

I wouldn’t have procrastinated so much. I wouldn’t have waited so long to get involved in different activities or clubs or organizations.

I wouldn’t have spent so much time in my room sophomore year. 

I also wouldn’t have wasted so much time putting time into organizations and clubs I eventually grew out of. 

I would’ve tried to be more disciplined. I would’ve managed my time a whole lot better, and not overwhelmed myself with too many different tasks at once.

But then I look back, and I didn’t do everything I could’ve or maybe would’ve really enjoyed… but I did a lot. A lot of different stuff.

And what if I had done it differently? Knowing what I know right now? What could’ve happened? Would I have ever gone to Brushfire’s offices, and met the great people I did? Would I have ever gone to those clubs I wound up not liking, and kind of developed from that? Realized that not everything is for everyone? Or that sometimes similar interests don’t always result in strong friendships or bonds? Would I have learned the lesson that sometimes you meet people, click with them for a brief period, and then you fade from their life and they from yours, and that’s a part of being an adult? 

And so… I did do a lot. I won’t say I have no regrets, but I can’t say I’d do it differently. I carry a lot of positive memories with me, too. Despite the bittersweetness of it, Bibo’s closing block party— which I attended with my friends from Brushfire—is one of the most cherished memories I have, especially from this year. Even the crazy, dysfunctional, bizarre environment of Juniper Hall is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Too many great stories came from it. And some genuine friendships… bonded over our shared disbelief at the antics of fellow Juniper residents (I affectionately call that collection of characters a “Petri dish”).

Point is, my hope is if you’re reading this, and you have a year or several years left here, take the opportunity—whenever you get back to campus—to take control and just do everything you can. 

Don’t sit there and wait for opportunities. Seek them out. Take advantage of everything you can. And I mean everything. The amount of access to resources you have here—that you will not be so easily allowed outside of college—is incredible. The library, the @One, The Center, the DeLaMare, the PSAC. There’s just so much you can absorb and explore and take advantage of while you’re here. If you can’t find a party on the weekends, you can go to the KC and read about everything from the philosophy of South Park to the biology of insects, or practice Photoshop or PremierePro or rent a camera and try to teach yourself some photography skills.

You will never find a nicer gym in your life, I guarantee you, with such a diverse range of equipment and classes to take, so don’t skimp on that either. Even if just for the novelty that you have access to a state of the art gym. Why not? It’s not like you’re going to have more time to work out once you graduate anyways. You’ll probably have less. So why waste it? 

And did you know that UNR lets you access films that have been reserved by the library for different courses? Or the service Kanopy, which features a ton of indie, foreign, art house and classic films? Or that the library has literally hundreds of DVDs of films available to rent, covering every genre imaginable, and also featuring some rare, out of print films? If you’re in a language class, often they offer extra credit for watching one of a few selected foreign language films (usually available through one of these platforms), so take advantage of that.

Take a weird class outside your major. Survey of Jazz was one of my best classes I’d ever taken. Music Appreciation made me, uh, appreciate classical music in a way I hadn’t before. Cinema-Sound Era was a great class once a week where I got to watch mostly forgotten films from auteurs like Sidney Lumet, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, George A. Romero and Don Siegel. And I found out the department is going to cut it. Because of course. End of an era…again. But, there are many similar courses being offered at the English department right now.

There is literally no reason to binge Netflix or play video games like I did a lot of the time when I was bored at school… because you can do that during the rest of your life. Don’t worry, it’s likely you’ll have a lot of it left after college.

Just absorb it all. Enjoy every aspect you can. Because nothing is concrete. All your ideas of what your time here is going to be and how it is going to end might not be so stable. So don’t wait for it. Because if you don’t create those moments for yourself, you might wind up missing them for good.

Matt Cotter can be reached at or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.