By Ashley Centers
“When you are in the final days of your life, what will you want? Will you hug that college degree in the walnut frame? Will you ask to be carried to the garage so you can sit in your car? Will you find comfort in rereading your financial statement? Of course not. What will matter then will be people. If relationships will matter most then, shouldn’t they matter most now?”
Almost a month ago, dressed in cap and gown, I walked across a stage and received my diploma. It was the end of one of the most stressful and frightening weeks of my life, and as I reflected on all the events and people that had helped me along on my seven-year journey to a four-year degree, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. I was weighed down by everything that’s happened, everyone that I’ve met, and everybody that I’ve said goodbye to in the seven years I’ve been working toward a piece of paper that is supposed to help me land a job in my field.
I walked off the stage and out of the Kibbie Dome that day, full of so many emotions and memories that I was positive I was going to burst into tears or laughter or probably both. I’m finding that I still struggle with putting into words the rollercoaster that was my college experience, and what it feels like to be on the other side.
Seven years is longer than the average amount of time it takes to earn a college degree, but then again, my college education and experiences haven’t exactly been that of the average student. Growing into a woman I can be proud of and completing college has been quite the adventure, and has left me with a few invaluable lessons.
Life is circles, vicious circles. We are beginning as we are ending. Each year, the earth makes another rotation around the sun as Mother Nature and her creatures shed their old skin for new, and we make the same mistakes we swore we had learned from. I’ve made more mistakes—in personal, academic, and professional parts of my life—over the course of seven years than I care to admit, but each mistake (and there have been some painful ones) has also been an opportunity for personal growth, and growth can only bring about good things.
Change is the only guarantee in life. I absolutely despise change. This feeling comes from being an anxious, easily overwhelmed creature of habit. Ironically, I underwent an incredible amount of change as an undergraduate student, which in turn has brought about several bursts of mega-explosions of new growth. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the midst of so much change and the subsequent growth, is to not take anything for granted. Laugh often and hard. Turn up the music. Always say ‘I love you’ and never say goodbye. Trust me, for these have been the hardest lessons.
I’ve transferred schools, worked on two very different student newspapers and as a blogger, was fired and rehired at one of those newspapers, lived at home as well as in the dorms and now in my very first apartment, learned unhealthy and then healthy ways to cope with several tragedies or traumatic experiences within my family, including several deaths (two of which were suicides), the breakup of my parents’ marriage, and my mom’s subsequent move halfway across the country, failed more than my fair share of classes, had my faith shown to me and then tested, survived getting hit by a car, and made the best friends I could have ever imagined.
Actually, you are greater than I could have imagined. All of you. You have been my greatest teachers, and the biggest tests of my patience. Because of you, I’m not afraid to believe in God or myself because each of you have believed in me when I was absolutely sure that I couldn’t make it across whatever molehill I had turned into a mountain. The only reason I made it to graduation twelve hours after I had been transported via ambulance to Gritman Medical Center after getting hit by a car while in a crosswalk, was because I wasn’t just walking across that stage for myself, but also for the many, many people who’ve helped me along in my journey. I couldn’t have become the person I am, college graduate or not, without the people I’m blessed to call my friends. Thank you for being the best parts of my crazy, beautiful life.
Seven years and two schools later I’ve been transformed from a barely eighteen-year-old who had her whole life planned out and thought she knew everything including being an adult and taking care of herself on lockdown, to a newly 25-year-old who doesn’t even come close to having life figured out.
I do know, however, that my real friends will love me even when I’ve majorly screwed up. Music, laughter, babies, and sunshine make me the happiest and everything happens for a reason so sometimes it’s best to just push the worry aside and roll with the punches.