It seems like only yesterday when I walked on stage in my black gown and shook hands with my school’s chancellor. I finally did it. I accomplished the one thing that I never thought I would be able to complete: gaining my bachelor’s degree. There were plenty of times, even right up towards the end, when I was close to falling off track and dimming that light at the end of the tunnel. To this day, I’m still not sure how I made it. Maybe I’m underestimating myself. I’m sure some luck was probably involved as well – perhaps from that certain someone upstairs. Either way, I came out on the other side in one piece and with a new, important piece of paper. The classic Hollywood ending . . . sounds like a great story, right? Well, that wasn’t the beginning and, in fact, this isn’t the end.
I began my college career in a bit of confusion. I spent my first collegiate semester at a small community and technical college near my hometown (I was supposed to go to a different community college, but that’s a long story meant for another day). I thought that things wouldn’t change much since I would be still near home and actually still living at home. Well, no matter how much I wanted to believe that, I knew deep down that nothing was still the same. Life around me at home was moving on with or without me, so after a long and isolated semester in a school that had very few students actually attending there for their generals, I decided to jump ship and go to the place I probably should have gone to from the start: a different, bigger community college that my best friend was attending.
This time was different, and by different, I mean the good kind. It was and always is good to be home with my family, but I needed a change and they would be the first to tell you that. This time I was going to school an hour away from home and living with my best friend and a few other friends from high school and previous sports teams. Hanging out with them are some of my favorite memories even up to this day. The combination of friendly, familiar faces in a new environment with new friendly faces was perfect for me. I not only got to see some friends from high school, but I also got to befriend some new people that, to this day, I’m still glad I was able to meet – and in some cases, still communicate with.
After a fun, yet successful spring semester, I returned to that same community college the following school year, but unfortunately, my roommates were all a year ahead of me and were either no longer attending the school or living near campus. That meant that I lived at home and drove to class from there. It made traveling to work (workstudy at the computer commons) a little more challenging – particularly on days with bad weather – and I added onto it even more when I was cast in a community theatre production, Jack the Ripper: Monster of Whitechapel. That was also a great experience with incredibly talented individuals surrounding me.
Once my first two years were expired, I had to make a big decision regarding my future. The first decision was choosing a university to attend and the second was deciding on a major. Up to that point, I had been so focused on my generals that I hadn’t really thought much about picking one specific major. In my last few months at that community college, a few of my English teachers saw how well I was doing in those classes and talked me into being an English major, so I was aided in that decision, but deciding on a new school was not as simple.
I looked at a few schools that interested me and, more specifically, the English programs they offered. I concluded that a private school in the twin cities was the best fit for me and my academic strengths. That was the plan all the way up until a week or two before moving in when it was ultimately decided that, financially speaking, it would not work out.
That left me in a frenzy about what to do. My backup plan, UMM, was one of my next options and the school my sister was attending was another option. It didn’t take me long to discover that my backup school from the beginning – the school I was close to picking in the first place – was the right option and I have never been more right about anything in my life. Sure, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it was a great environment for me and I made some amazing new friends (one I lived with and still talk to almost daily).
The environment was friendly and once again, I was surrounded by a few familiar faces and some wonderful new faces. Plus, it wasn’t too far of a drive for me to go home for a weekend. Of course, I can’t leave out the fact that I met the most amazing and important person in my life only a few weeks into fall semester. If you, the amazing and important person previously mentioned, are reading this, you definitely know who you are – although most people that know me probably already know who that person is, so I’m not sure why I’m wording it like it is some big revelation. Anyways, yes, I met some great colleagues, classmates, professors, and co-workers – particularly the librarians that I worked for. They are fantastic people that are incredibly good at their job. It was and is always a joy to see them.
In regards to my major, if I am being completely honest, it was a little bit of a mixed bag. The reason why I didn’t initially attend UMM was that I felt like my skills within the discipline of humanities and, more specifically, English, didn’t quite align with what their program offered. My strengths were and still are with creative writing. The program was more literature-based and exposed me to completely new territory. I had to learn a lot of information on the fly because, quite honestly, I was not ready or prepared for it.
In hindsight, it was probably the best thing for me to grow, academically speaking. It made me learn the fundamentals and basics of English and gave me a more well-rounded approach and mindset towards it that I could apply to other subjects and facets of life. I will also admit that I struggled with symptoms of depression and anxiety as my time there went on (I’m not the most outgoing person anyways) – thank goodness that amazing person was there with me! If I am also being honest, if the opportunity came before me to go back and redo it all over again, I think I might pick a different major. It isn’t because of any deficiencies I have with English, but rather because I had a good experience with an upper-level CMR (communication, media, and rhetoric) class. I found that class to be very intriguing and engaging while also earning a better grade in that class than I did in my English class at that time. In the end, I would probably pick that major just because I already experienced the English program and would want to try something different.
My last semester at UMM was bonkers. I took all English classes (something I never did before) that included my senior seminar course. I’m pretty sure I ended up with over 25 books in total to read for the semester. On top of that, I was still trying to hang out with friends and family back home here and there while also dealing with some personal stuff. I was forced to sacrifice some things in order to achieve success with my insane schedule – which included stepping down from writing for Odyssey. This was all happening while I was supposed to be figuring out what I was going to do with my life after college and also find a way to make monthly payments on the car I had bought in the winter. It got to a point where I actually spent some time with a guidance counselor that I basically became friends with more than anything, but it was still helpful nonetheless. It actually reminded me of the guidance counselor I used to see in high school and both scenarios were beneficial to me.
Finally, finals were over and it was basically a waiting game. My grades turned out to be not-so-horrible and I made it to commencement. That was a strange day for me. I know it is almost cliché to say it was surreal, but it really felt like that. It felt like it was a culmination of my college career and that it was meant to be. It also felt like it wasn’t quite the end of my college career (more on that a little later). All in all, it was a great day, but also a bittersweet one. For the ceremony, I sat next to two of my roommates that were also graduating with me. That is the last day I have seen both of them as of the moment this is being written. They are both really good friends of mine and I was lucky enough to have roomed with them for my senior year.
What also made it bittersweet was that it was the end of that chapter in my life. I would never live there again on campus and stay up late working on homework with my girlfriend. It might have been the last time I might ever see some of the people I was graduating with. Everything did work out great in how it all concluded, but that didn’t make it any easier. I remember being in my on-campus apartment with my younger brother and he told me he was going to wait in the car while we both waited for me to be officially checked out of the on-campus apartment. The lady came, checked me out, and after I took a moment to sit on the couch and let it all sink in, I walked to the door, turned back and saw all of the memories one last time, and then left for home with my younger brother no longer a college student.
Well, that isn’t entirely true. See, shortly after my last semester began, I was informed that I would be one course short of getting my degree due to an error with the website that showed me my graduation progress. Thankfully, it was in my major and after discussing it with the professor I had the most success with, I took not one, but two summer courses via email. I chose to do that because it would delay the grace period for loan repayment and bought me some time to figure out my next move. This is the first time I have mentioned it to just about everyone because at first I felt embarrassed about it. I bet my manager at the hotel I currently work for would be shocked to hear that I worked full-time while taking two heavily reading-intensive courses at the same time (he truly is an incredible boss, by the way). After that was completed, it was truly the end of my college career and yet time for another big change in my life.
So you are probably wondering by now what I am doing with my life. Well, a few weeks before commencement I made contact with one of my former editors at Odyssey. He invited me to join the entertainment website he is a staff member of called The Pop-Break. I instantly hopped on that opportunity and it has been a blast writing for them as a contributing writer. I’m still working at home for the hotel I’ve been working part-time / seasonal at while attending UMM (now it’s been more like full-time). I have also been spending some of my free time working on projects that I have wanted to work on for a long time, but hadn’t been able to due to time and / or resources, like tribute videos for my YouTube channel and, of course, writing. Am I still getting constantly asked if I have applied for a “better” job yet? I would be lying if I said no, but I understand and agree with their point-of-view. It is time to be a full-fledged adult, I suppose. It is just a matter of finding the right opportunity and putting myself in the best position for what I would like to do.
I actually still visit my former campus sometimes to see my girlfriend and connect with a few friends that still attend there. I think the weirdest part about graduating wasn’t the actual ceremony, but instead moving my girlfriend back into college for fall semester and then driving home afterwards. She is in her senior year (which is so weird to think about) and, while it has been tough being apart, we are adjusting and making it work. We’re regulars at this dating stuff since we’ve been together for three years now (with many, many more to come).
I guess that brings this collegiate-inspired narrative arc full circle. Wow, that was a slippery sentence. In a way, that kind of defines my college experience. There were a lot of changes and difficult times – some of which I purposely chose not to mention for personal reasons – but in the end, I pulled it all together and made it up the mountain. Some of the most important information that I learned actually wasn’t in the classroom, but rather how that material can help me improve my skills for a future career, how to be an adult, and how to live life in the real world. I’ve been lucky enough to have been surrounded by great people everywhere I have been and it makes me ponder what lies ahead for me in the future.
If I have one message to leave here for current or upcoming college students, it would be this: have fun and enjoy college for what it is worth, but do not forget why you are there and make the most of it; make it count and become the person you wish to be. If you do finish and are still working on the next step, that’s okay. I’m still trying to figure this thing out as well.
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