On Your Mark…Steady…

Once I turned in my only final exam this last Tuesday, my second-to-last semester of university was done.

This was a semester unlike any I’ve had before. There was stress, which wasn’t new, but it was stress that came in different forms. Some of those forms were positive, while others were the usual negative. In any case, I got through it, and in the process I got to experience a number of unique experiences. There were a bunch of firsts that made my family proud, and I did some things I never would have expected to be courageous enough to do—and yet, I did them! This semester also stands out as my last full-time semester, since I just have one more class to take when Fall rolls around. Getting to this point in and of itself has been a journey in the making, something I’ve been wanting since I was a freshman for the first time seven years ago.

I knew that when I logged into my social media today that I was going to see a repeating narrative in the form of posts and pictures and hashtags. The university I attend held its second day of commencement ceremonies this morning, and it was special in my mind because the majority of people I started with at this institution were graduating. I wasn’t able to go to the ceremony, but you can bet that I’m super freaking proud of them all. These are people—not just names and faces, but conversations, jokes, hearts, and knowledge that (whether they realize this or not) have helped me grow as a person since I started there two years ago. I know how hard they’ve worked to get to this day, because we’ve shared classes and/or a bus route, through which I have learned the human narrative better through learning their stories. They have shaped my view of the world, and I know they are movers and shakers, their efforts not done yet. Whether they go on to graduate school or enter the workforce, or even if they do something else, these are people I know who will continue to do great things.

Everyone thought I was going to be there, walking across the stage with them. Well, after a while, it felt like a lot of people, at least. I think I did have a chance to walk the stage with them, but I reasoned that it wouldn’t feel right to walk with them when I still hadn’t truly completed my undergraduate education. When I walk, I want it to create its own timestamp, its own indicator of “this journey is ended.” I certainly didn’t want to carry that into the last class for Fall. Could you imagine how ambivalent I’d be? My work would suffer considerably.

At the same time, though, I did feel a bit of selfish sadness. Like I said, I started this journey at this school with a majority of these people, so I felt like the proverbial “odd man out” by not ending the journey with them at the commencement ceremony this morning. I can’t help but reflect on the negative thoughts that keep returning:

“You should have been here YEARS ago.”

“You could have kicked your ass and finished with the rest of them, but did you? No!”

“Wow, talk about lagging behind!”

…and so on and so forth. But I have to remember that friends in the past and present have stories about going to college, taking some-odd year(s) off, then coming back and earning their degree. I know people who have only been able to do part-time, and have gotten their degree despite not taking on the full unit load. These jabs to my self-esteem aren’t unique, and people have succeeded despite said jabbing. I have to remember that everyone moves at their own pace, and the fact of the matter is that I’m nearly done as it is! I have one semester left—not two, three, or even years—one. I’m closer to my goal than I have ever been, even if it has been revised multiple times due to various circumstances. I have survived up to this point, and I still have the support system I need to get me through to the finish line. I will walk across that stage, even it’s not until a year from now. I will be able to say I have a Bachelor’s degree, even if I have to wait. As long as I keep going and let other people help me, I know I can do this. I just have to remember my strengths and abilities, which I doubt constantly but also know they’re present regardless.

So, if you’re in my position, here’s the gist of what I’m trying to say: You do you—your pace, your timing, your choice(s). You will get to where you need to be in due time, so long as you keep putting your best forward.

Remember the words of Vince Lombardi: “It does not matter how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up.’

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