The Final Stretch

When I finally walked across that stage, fake diploma in my hand, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by what was happening. I graduated high school, a 13-year marathon of awkward adolescence. For years it was built up as a grand conclusion to the first leg of my life. In many ways, it was an end: the rigid school schedule I’d known my whole life vanished in place of the more sparse but considerably more difficult layout of college life. Not having to wake up early in the morning sounds like the stuff of dreams for a high school student, but it wasn’t without its caveats.

There is a disguised beauty within a rigid schedule, especially when it comes to school. You make friends along the way who likely share your teen angst and dislike of waking up early. Like shitty retail jobs, you develop a bond through that baptism under fire. Some of my best friendships would never be if it weren’t for that old-fashioned, exhausting schedule.

This last week has put me in a reflective mood. I start my senior year of college tomorrow, something I didn’t think was possible a few years ago. Although much of my high school class have finished their leg of the race, I thankfully don’t feel like I’m lagging behind or wasted (too much) of my 20’s. I admit that I stayed in community college a few semesters too many, but if I didn’t take random classes like political science or history of film, I may have never thought to become a journalism major.

My time in Collin College, as scatterbrained as it often was, let me experiment and try classes out, not caring how they’d contribute to my degree plan. I realized that my favorite assignments, no matter the subject, were usually essays or research papers. I will never forget going to a theater production of the musical “First Date” and writing a review of one of my class assignments. The play itself was pretty basic, not trying to reinvent the wheel. However, it was superbly well done and the actors’ energy was contagiously enjoyable. I loved every minute because I was watching people do what they love and love what they do.

I wrote a glowing review of the production, complimenting the performances and how they elevated the material into something that felt fresh and unique. That’s the beauty of theatre and I will never not love that.

My theatre professor took me aside on the last day of class and told me how much she loved what I wrote. I never had a professor tell me anything like that and I could only manage to hastily give my thanks. She then asked me, with the utmost sincerity and even a bit of concern, whether not I knew I had a talent for writing. I will never forget that. Just writing this is making my eyes glisten. It was at that moment that I knew if I was going to seriously pursue a profession, it had to do something with writing.

I’ve been thinking about that moment and, save for a couple of needless detours between then and now, how that was the first time I had a roadmap for a career. Every bit of success I’ve had in college wouldn’t be so if I didn’t write about a play that I had no prior plans of watching.

I was overly hyped about my senior year in high school. The finality of it all made me want to make every day special and amazing. I still appreciate where I was coming from then. At that time, I felt like I was finally enjoying high school and wanted that final year to be as eventful and spectacular as possible.

The paradox in trying to make every moment, every day as its own special thing is that it ceases to be unique. Trying to replicate the “good times” is what’s known as spiritual addiction, a completely normal attempt to coordinate the present moment to echo the triumphs of yesterday. I had a healthy helping of spiritual addiction at that time and, long story short, I learned about it the hard way.

Our greatest memories do not come from an intent to “have a good time” or meet the objective of making this the best day ever. Those fleeting delights are brought up from mindfulness, to be fully present in that moment. Trying to orchestrate or micromanage our daily lives in an attempt to reach that high is a losing battle because we’re trying to make this moment what it isn’t. I was emotionally and physically burned out from running a needless race, cowering from social situations and reverting to norms that made me too comfortable.

And then I graduated. Even though I appreciated that I made it this far, I knew I would’ve had to make an asserted effort to not walk that stage. I finished the race, not out of my own volition, but because that’s how it worked. I didn’t feel like I earned it, even though people gave their congratulations to a nauseating degree.

Six years later, I find myself on the eve of another senior year, this time on my own terms. Though I feel anxious about the classes I’m taking, not to mention stepping foot in a classroom in nearly a year, I know these problems are good problems. They are a byproduct of taking the extra step, of betting on myself, of seeing things through.

The year that awaits me is likely going to be a stressful one, full of challenges and even doubts. Come what may, I hope to take things as they come and recognize them for what they are, not what they are not or what they should be. If I do that, if you do that, somewhere in the challenges and countless existential crises will there be moments of clarity, honesty and joy.