Thank You, Athens

The summer before college, I kept hearing one thing: the next four years will be the best years of your life.

Now that I have graduated, I beg to differ. These past four years have been the most formative years of my life, but the years to come? Those are going to be the best.

Today, I stand as the person I always wanted to be – happy, strong and fearless. And I move forward with confidence in myself and my decisions as a daughter, sister and friend.

I say that confidently because in retrospect, I could not be the person I am today without having learned what I learned in college. I learned to love. I learned to be grateful. Most importantly, I learned to live in the moment.

For all my life, I dreamed of having that “I can’t live without you,” that “you complete me” kind of love, and time and time again, I found myself wondering what was wrong with me. What was it about me that made me so unlovable?

The funny thing was that I had spent all this time wanting people to love the image that I projected, and I had put all this work into masking my insecurities when I should have been fixing them. So I learned to love myself.

Everyday, I surrounded myself with people who supported and encouraged me. My friends in college, who were there for me during the highs and the lows, shaped the way I saw myself. We spent countless days in coffee shops talking about our goals for the future and many long nights on living room floors working towards bettering ourselves. They rejected self-deprecation, and they taught me how to love the parts of myself that I thought made me less of a person.

My friends also set the example on how to love others. I watched them be great girlfriends and boyfriends to their significant others. I watched them care for the homeless on cold nights. I even watched them comfort crying, drunk girls in the bathroom. That is how you love people.

So I owe it all to my friends in college. They are my “can’t live without you” love. They are my “you complete me” love. Because without them, I would have never learned how to love.

While it was my friends who taught me how to love myself and others, it was everyone on campus that taught me how to be grateful.

During my time in college, I spent a lot of time with people from all walks of life, and we were all striving for the same things – success, happiness and a better future. In the process, I learned about the things that they didn’t take for granted – like time, money, family, culture, opportunities, and the list goes on and on.

Being at a school with so many people from different backgrounds opened my eyes to the fact that even though we were all at the same point in our lives, nobody got there in the same way. It made me reflect upon the people and things that helped me get to this point in my life, and just as importantly, I started thinking about the things I had forgotten to appreciate during this journey.

Today, I am more conscious of how lucky I am. I wake up every morning, and I am grateful to be alive, to have such amazing people in my life, to be doing something I love and so much more. Although there are many ways to show gratitude, the easiest way to do it is with two words: thank you.

And I am extremely grateful for my biggest takeaway from college, which was how to live in the moment.

Four years. I spent four years of my life in the greatest city on earth, at the greatest school on earth, with the greatest people on earth.

Throughout those four years, I kept thinking I am never going to get to live like this again. I am never going to have all my best friends in one city again. I am never going to find a way to go out six out of seven days of the week again.

The clock was ticking, so I tried to live in the moment and experience everything as if it was my first and my last time.

When I laughed, I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. When I cried, I bawled. When I studied, I pulled all-nighters. When I went out, I danced like no one was watching. I didn’t want to waste a single second of the time I had because time is one thing you can’t get back.

Before I knew it, I had on my graduation gown and was waving at my family from between the hedges in Sanford Stadium. Ryan Seacrest was speaking to the Class of 2016.

“So let’s take one last moment and really, really take it in,” he said. “Close your eyes for a second. Take in a deep breath of that Athens air. Hear the sounds of the dawg barking. And put that memory in a very, very safe place, and keep it with you for the rest of your life. You will always remember what you’ve learned and experienced here at the University of Georgia.”

Then it happened. My four years of college ended. I graduated. The moment was gone.

The following weeks were a blur as I spent almost every second with friends, crossed items off my bucket list, packed up my things and moved out of Athens. Leaving Athens was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I was leaving behind friends and the place I called home for the past four years, and I was entering into the unknown.

But so far, the unknown has not been too frightening.

Here I am – at the commencement of the rest of my life – and I feel good. I feel ready. I have packed every single great memory from Athens into a box, and I am taking it with me into my next chapter. I am keeping the lessons I learned at the forefront of my mind to guide me as I pave the way for my future. I am still figuring out what I want, but I am confident that I will figure it out with time.

To everyone who has been on this journey with me so far, thank you. Thank you for loving me, for teaching me, for pushing me to do better and be better. Thank you to the University of Georgia for bringing these amazing people into my life and for being the backdrop to some of the greatest moments I have ever experienced. Thank you all for shaping me into who I am today because now I am ready for the best years of my life.Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 4.40.29 PMDSC_0507.jpg

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