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Today was my last first day of school. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I expected everyone around me to feel the aura of my power as a graduating senior, for freshmen to bow in awe, for my gait to say “watch out world, I’m graduating with a chemistry degree in 109 days”.
Surprisingly, none of that happened. It was a normal first day, full of nervous stomachs, and bad jokes from desperate-to-be-liked professors, and people asking questions about things that were on the syllabus (Just. Read. The DAMN SYLLABUS. All of the answers to life are in it. Or at least the dates of the exams, which is kind of the same thing.)
It’s almost a disappointing feeling? Like I have clawed my way to the top. I have put more sweat, blood, tears, Advil gel-caps, triple expresso coffees, and anguish into this than I have into anything I have every done in my life. I have felt the highest highs and the lowest lows within the last three years of my life. There were some days that my heart would soar with pride in myself, like when I wrote my first publishable scientific paper, and then there were days that I was at rock bottom making my fingernails bleed because I was determined to make myself get even lower, like the nights I sobbed in my empty tub, holding my stuffed doggy and feeling the cold porcelain on my skin to remind me that I was real, I was alive, and I would survive this.
I want to stand in the middle of Academic Plaza and yell at the top of my lungs that “I made it! In just one short semester I will have earned a bachelor of science in chemistry! CHEMISTRY! Do you know how hard that is?” I want people to acknowledge my hard work, I want random strangers to feel jealous of my achievement, that I’m graduating and they still have years to go.
But. That’s not how this works. I look the same as every other student on campus, whether they be freshman or senior. I’m wearing the same tired look, the same faded Nikes, the same ripped backpack that weighs too much as everyone else. But maybe, if you look at me closely, you’ll see that I’m standing a little bit taller. You’ll see that behind those tired eyes, there’s a rock-hard glint of newfound determination. Maybe you’ll notice that for the first time in three years, there’s pride in my gait.
Life has beat me down, spit me out, and then kicked my spitty bruised body. But I fought back. And in 109 days, I will have won.

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