I think it is important to begin with a brief narrative of my tumultuous educational background for those who either don’t know me personally or have never heard the story. I also think it is important in illustrating just how much a college diploma means to me.
It is best to begin where my troubles started, in high school. Up until my Sophomore year, I had been growing gradually lazier as a student, but I always tested well enough to pass everything. In tenth grade, however, I began associating with the “wrong crowd,” who incidentally are the most accepting; I dropped extracurricular activities like band and gymnastics; and I missed an alarming amount of class, though my truancy was overlooked due to a technical error in Rockwall High School’s system. Despite my increasingly radical behavior, I somehow only failed a single class, a math class usually taken at the Junior level anyway. That summer, I discovered a plethora of new self-destructive activities in which to engage with my new friends. I was so beyond caring when my Junior year began that I skipped class on the second day, and I became a high school drop out by the end of my first week. After a short and almost comical attempt at a home school program in which I was trusted to stay home alone and do all of the work by myself, I enrolled in Rockwall Quest Academy, an alternative school. I ultimately dropped out once again in favor of earning a GED. I’m not proud of not having a real high school diploma, but I cannot deny that a GED was my best option at that point. Anyway, I scored very high on it, making the 99th percentile (the highest possible score) in two of five areas and the high-90s in the other three. Armed with this and an exceptional score on the Texas Higher Education Assessment, I easily made it into Eastfield College, the nearest school to me in the Dallas County Community College District and a notable transfer school.
At the age of seventeen (a very immature seventeen) and with just two years of high school education, I was far from being prepared for college. My first three semesters could not have been much more disastrous, largely due to the fact that the dark activities I had so loved in high school became darker habits I no longer loved or had any control over. I’m still not really sure what changed in me four years ago, but whatever it was saved my college career and likely my life. I cleaned up and did well enough in the latter half of my second year at Eastfield to earn myself a place at the University of Texas at Dallas. I would soon learn, however, that my chaotic educational background left me ill-prepared for the future.
I don’t want to go so far as to say I made a mistake in enrolling as a Biochemistry major. It took only a single semester for me to truly learn the difference between the science program of a community college and a four-year university known for its pre-health program. I quickly found myself in the same situation as my early days at Eastfield, only now I could not blame it on my lifestyle. Perhaps it was a lack of motivation that caused a rapid drop in my grades, or perhaps it was the anxiety caused by being in classes of 200 people, an anxiety, I now realize, that could have been avoided by sitting at the front of class rather than the back, thereby forcing me to pay attention to the professor and not the number of people in the room. I can say it was in seeking a way to cope with this anxiety that I discovered the therapeutic value of writing. For my last year as a science major, I spent most of the time in my math and science classes working on a novel, and this is what inspired me to take a Creative Writing class as a free elective. When the professor of that class later asked me jokingly if she had been the reason I changed my major, I told her no. I wasn’t entirely honest.
When the time came that semester to register for the next semester, I went not to my usual adviser, but rather to the Arts and Humanities adviser. By the end of one semester as a Literary Studies major, I knew I had made the right choice. I had found something I enjoyed and was good at. I only look back, now, to wonder why I fooled myself for so long into thinking I was destined for science.
Three semesters as a Lit major later, and here I am, standing at the edge of the next great adventure. In telling what I had planned to be a shorter tale, I’ve put into perspective for myself, and I hope you as well, just how much of an adventure the last journey was. The student speaker at my ceremony talked about overcoming obstacles to get to this point. For some, the obstacles may be loss or disability, but for me, the obstacle was myself. I had to overcome my obstinacy, my anxieties, even my own sense of who I am. This was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, but I got through it. Not only did I make it through, I came away better from the experience as well. I learned so much more these past five and a half years than the classes alone could teach me.
I know I am optimistic about beginning the rest of my life, but I also know that I can’t expect my future to be perfect. I know life can be hard, and I know things are not going to be handed to me. As much as I feel like I have accomplished something, there is a certain amount of fear that accompanies it. When the president of the school instructed us to move our tassels, which lead to an extended period of roaring applause from the audience, I was momentarily struck dumb by the majesty of the moment. I have never before been so terrified, proud, and enthralled by the significance of a single moment that represented so much more. This fear of the Great Unknown is a thing of beauty to me because it is so natural, so very human. I may not know what lies ahead, but I know I have everything I have learned over the last twenty-three years and the support of all those who helped me along the way to aid me in whatever I do. I also have my experiences, which, while nearly destroying my life, have given me an invaluable tool. I have already mastered myself. All that is left now is to master my future.