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18 to 22: a Libra’s Reflection on Birthdays and Growth

Senior year in college and senior year in high school feel like two completely different movies that miraculously and hilariously ended up being part of the same franchise. Looking back at who I was and what I felt like in my pre-college days usually doesn’t faze me too much anymore—after all, growth is completely normal, and no one really stays the same once we get out of our little bubbles and begin exploring the endless possibilities of everything we can be. 

I’ve been a college student for four years now, and after surviving the rollercoaster ride of freshman year, I’ve only been trying to focus on looking ahead.

But I suddenly had a vivid awakening as my birthday rolled around, just last week.

A few weeks ago, on October 7, I turned 22 years old as a senior in college and couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for life as I looked back exactly four years ago—when I was 18 and a senior in high school. 

At 18, I felt like a fish out of water, like I was drowning in dread for what the future held and yet couldn’t even contain the vast desire leaking out of my soul to just get out and be free. I desperately wanted to be this perfect version of myself that I had thought was going to be better—this Maria was going to move mountains and change the world!

At 22, I still feel that similar sense of desire to be more, but I’m starting to slowly fall in love with the person I’m becoming. At 22, I’ve realized that perfection isn’t real and that the only sure way to success is to work hard and give yourself credit for trying your best and taking time to rest and rejuvenate. I used to beat myself up over my past mistakes and for not being perfect. Now, I’m starting to appreciate the good (and bad) experiences that helped make me who I am today and will perhaps guide me in growing into who I’m yet to be. 

To parallel the two birthday experiences feels beyond wild to me! Senior year to senior year and already, so much has changed. Like a movie, the plot of my life has developed into a complex mix of different responsibilities, passions, and dreams. I guess the essence of my identity and what I care about has remained pretty much the same, but if I could go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self anything, it would be to not worry so much about the future and to take a chill pill. I wish I could tell my past self to learn to be proud of how far I’d come and to enjoy the present moment.

Nostalgia tells me that I’ve grown so much, but I don’t think I’ve abandoned my 18-year-old self completely. I don’t think I’ve altered my identity and my interests—rather, I’ve grown more into who I’ve always wanted to be and who I was meant to become. 

I’ve stayed up late writing and doing things that I love, but I’ve also ventured out of my comfort zone. I’ve found passion in things I didn’t even know about when I was 18. I’ve fallen in love with a city I never thought I’d live in and gone to a beautiful university out-of-state and away from home, which I was definitely not planning on.

At 18, I was struggling in toxic relationships with people I thought were going to be there for me. I was always worried about what other people thought of me, and I didn’t enjoy my high school experience since I was spending too much time acting like a chameleon. At 18, I strived to have no flaws and be this perfect person that I expected myself to become ever since I started high school. 

But things have a funny way of working out, even more unexpectedly and gloriously than we could have ever imagined. 

At 22, I’ve learned that perfection is a false god and that your true friends will love you regardless. I’m starting to learn to be happy with ambition and growth rather than being flawless. I even found myself enjoying my own company for once. 

A few days ago, I celebrated my 22nd birthday with cool college classes I never thought I’d take, working at an incredible entertainment internship I never even considered and getting to do things I’m passionate about as my busy Thursday wrapped to a close. My family came to visit my sister and I in St. Louis, and I even have plans next weekend to celebrate my birthday with my close friends who I’ve come to know and foster healthy, exciting relationships with throughout my college journey. 

All I can say is, from senior year to senior year, from birthday to birthday, I sure am happy that I never gave up and settled for less than what I deserved. 

Four years does a lot to transform a person. At 18, I was scared out of my wits of what the future held. At 22, this Libra is ready for more exciting birthdays to come, and to love and learn from every single one of them!

Maria is the HCSLU President for the 2021-2022 year. She is a rising senior with a major in Communication and a double-minor in Marketing and Film Studies. Maria was born in the Philippines and grew up around Chicago. She is a published author and poet, and loves all forms of inclusive story-telling, especially for media and entertainment!
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