The Past Four Years…

Via George Mason University Creative Services

In high school I had this dream of going to school in Washington, D.C. and becoming a big-time diplomat or UN official. Well, things didn’t quite go as planned. From the day I committed to George Mason University, I was bitter. Bitter my family couldn’t afford a different school, bitter I didn’t get other scholarships and bitter my friends were going to their dream schools. I held on to this bitterness for a long time.

Those who know me well, know I almost didn’t make it to this day. College challenged me in ways I never thought possible. There were countless times I wanted to give up, not only on GMU and college entirely, but on life. I struggled to find purpose, a vision for the future, happiness. I even tried to run away from it all by studying abroad, and while I had so many wonderful experiences, it did not make coming back to GMU any better.

I used to project that when I looked back at these four years, they would be covered by a cloud of darkness. But lately, I am starting to see the good that outweighs the bad. Part of it is definitely my newfound ability (survival tactic) to spin bad things into good learning opportunities, but a bigger part is the genuinely great experiences I have had here that I used to ignore, or failed to recognize as positive.

My last year of college was truly transformative, and it changed my outlook for the better. I found the courage to take on leadership roles in projects I truly cared about. And those experiences shaped how I began to think about my studies, and more importantly, about my future. My thinking went from, “I’m inexperienced, not smart enough and unable” to, “I’m qualified, brilliant and capable.”

It turns out, it’s not about the place. It’s about the people. Surround yourself with people who share your interests, encourage you to aim high, but understand you sometimes have to aim low, challenge you to grow, laugh with you, cry with you, drink with you (maybe all three at the same time), use sarcasm as a first language and just really get you. It makes all the difference. Whether in Fairfax, Berkeley, Madrid or D.C., you all have touched my heart and changed my life. Thank you for walking along with me.

I spent the last few years physically aching to go home to Cranford. Now, I can’t stay away long enough! It’s nothing personal Mom, I promise you that. You’ve given me a great pair of wings, and now I’m finally ready to use them to fly. And knowing I will always have Cranford to come home to makes flying on my own that much easier.

Without a doubt, I owe the past four years to my parents. Thank you for reading to me since the day I was born (or probably before), for setting me on a track of academic success and pushing me when I thought I couldn't push anymore. Thank you for teaching me humility, kindness, respect and positivity. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking every single crying phone call over the last four years, for being my rocks and for feeding me constant encouragement. I wouldn’t be receiving my degree in a few days if it wasn’t for you.

I may not know exactly what my future is going to look like. Hell, I don’t even know what tomorrow will look like. But, as I channel my inner Oprah for a minute, “I do know for sure” that my experiences over the past four years have prepared me for any challenge down the road, and they will stay with me wherever I go. I also know for sure that I am so glad I decided to stick around at GMU and on the wonderful ride we call life.

As my time sets on GMU, I know the real adventure is only just beginning.

All photos courtesy of the author