I'm trying not to count the "lasts" that are slowly but surely happening every day now as I walk around campus at UNC. But yesterday, I couldn't help but count one: the last class of my college experience. It was nothing special, and we didn't do anything crazy or different, but when I walked out of that building, the reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Don't get me wrong: I'm not mourning the fact that I won't have to write any more papers or take any more exams after graduation. But getting to go sit in a classroom each day with outstanding professors who teach with passion? That I'm going to miss.
According to UNICEF, more than 124 million students were denied education in 2013. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 80% of kids enrolled in primary schools are expected to reach the last grade. Don't even get me started on how many of these children are girls. Afghanistan boasts the highest rates of gender disparities in primary school enrollment, and although the gap between male and female enrollment in schools is decreasing throughout the world, it's still in the millions. It's right here in the United States, too. North Carolina, the home of the great university that I love, is among the bottom 5 of all 50 states in terms of teacher salary. Comparatively, we have nothing to complain about. But what's reflected here in all of these numbers is that although we believe education should be a human right, we don't support it in the ways that count. There are a million more facts I could share, each one of them disappointing.
So these are the thoughts that clouded my mind as I walked out of my final college class. The odds of me being born into this life, in which I went to elementary school, middle school, high school, and college, are 1 in 400 trillion. How can anyone not reflect on his or her education when you think about these odds? I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities and words of encouragement I have received throughout my life when it comes to learning. I feel that I have a responsibility to carry this gratitude with me every day. We can't be complacent about this, and we can't be apathetic. We can joke about how happy we are to be out of school and done with homework, but we can't ever forget how lucky we are to be graduating with brains full of knowledge and confidence in our ability to take on the world. That's something that a lot of people will never have. We've got to cherish it.
Sometimes you go camping in Yellowstone and forget the tent poles, so instead you sleep under the stars blissfully (except for the moments when you're thinking about bears).
Some might say our friendship started in fifth grade, when she was Queen of the Monkey Bars and I was but a humble servant who wasn't cool enough to be her friend. Luckily, sixth grade put us in the same homeroom and we had done some growing up over that fateful summer. Middle school was a blur of bad makeup, bad hair and bad selfies combined with silly drama about things like two of our friends who had a crush on the same boy when neither of them had actually ever spoken to him.
High school was a bit more serious. We leaned on each other with everything we had. We alternated convincing one another that everything was going to be alright. We traveled together after we graduated and we fought once. It was because I did the dishes when it was supposed to be her turn.
Now suddenly we're here, about to graduate from college, and it's incredible to me that tonight, when we Skyped for the first time in a few months, it was instant comfort. Instant laughter. Instant happiness. So much goodness that you just can't even believe how lucky you are to have it. It's rare that we find people like this: people who don't feel like they have to make you smile when what seems like the worst thing in the world is happening. Instead, they cry with you, and listen so intently it's like your words are made of gold.
So you know what I mean when I say that she's just one of those people. One of those people who I can't imagine living without, and who I hope I never have to. Cheers to at least fifty more years of friendship and fingers crossed that on my 72nd birthday, we'll still be making inappropriate jokes.
I'm about to graduate (and you're all probably thinking WE KNOW THIS STOP TALKING ABOUT IT). But in this months-long period of reflection I've been thinking about what I might like to tell myself if I could go back in time a little bit. Chances are, you've heard these all before, but I still think they're important.
1. Nobody is thinking about you. They're all just thinking about what you might be thinking about them.
I want to scream this one piece of advice to the entire world. Yeah, people pass quick judgments, but that's just it. They're quick. Nobody spends more than 30 seconds analyzing the weirdness that you think you might be radiating. They're too worried about their own weirdness.
2. Put yourself out there more. My professor Gary recently asked us, "Who here has met someone attractive, but never told them that you thought they were attractive?" All forty-something of us raised our hands. This tidbit doesn't just go for putting yourself out there when you see a cute guy in Caribou Coffee. It also goes for raising your hand in class or meeting your professor at office hours. It means daring to go somewhere, like an a cappella concert, alone. It means doing what you want to do, plain and simple.
3. All those little things you're stressing about? You're going to forget them in a month. This advice can basically be summed up as, "Don't sweat the small stuff." It's funny, because we say these things to ourselves all the time, but we continuously sweat the small stuff. I don't remember the grade I got on that paper that I was finishing the night before it was due. I do remember laughing with my friends as we walked home at 1:00 a.m. eating skittles.
Relay For Life of UNC, the student organization that has basically been my child for the past year, hosted its final event of the year yesterday and today. The event was 15 hours long, and went from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society's signature fundraising event, and the idea is that you have at least one person walking around a track for the entirety of the event. Although I wasn't on the track the entire fifteen hours myself, I believe we succeeded in our goal. A Relay For Life event symbolizes so much. It makes us hope for all of our futures and for a world with out cancer. It makes us think deeply about the lives lost and the lives changed by cancer. It makes us thankful for every minute that we have to spend with one another.
It's an event that can be serious by nature, but it's also so much fun. We danced through midnight zumba for an hour, ate cookout milkshakes even though it was only about 43 degrees outside, sang horrible karaoke through hoarse voices around 3:30 am and made it all the way until closing ceremonies at 9 a.m. during which I somehow addressed a body of people without making a fool of myself after no sleep.
When I first started my Relay For Life position as Director, I was extremely focused and goal-driven. As for our somewhat outlandish fundraising and participant goals? In my mind there was no way we weren't going to reach them. We were going to surpass them, even. Even when our American Cancer Society staff partner suggested we lower them, we thought: No. It has to be bigger and better and more fun and make more money than ever before. Spoiler: We didn't reach those huge goals we had set for ourselves.
Second semester brought a couple of set backs followed by more set backs and it started to become clear In the last month or two leading up to our final fundraising push and then fundraising event that we weren't going to make those goals. I was a bit panicky. In my mind, success meant a certain amount of money and a certain number of participants. It wasn't until I spent those fifteen hours with friends with whom I had spent countless evenings and weekends planning and looked around at the proud cancer survivors dressed in purple with huge smiles, enjoying a cupcake from an onsite fundraiser and cheering their grandchildren on as they attempted to dunk a college student in the dunk tank that I felt happy. It dawned on me that my priorities were horribly misaligned.
Here's the truth: It didn't matter how much money we raised. It didn't matter how many people were there. What mattered was that I , along with some of my closest friends, had taken the time to devote part of my college experience to making the world a better place. We fundraised over $78,000 in a single year. We recruited over 800 students and community members to participate in a 15 hour event, when there were definitely more productive things they could have done with their Friday and Saturday. We provided emotional support to people whose lives have been impacted by cancer. Who knows if it's going to be one of the dollars that we fundraised that changes the research of one scientist that leads to an important discovery?
I think it's easy to get caught up in the numbers of life: your business goals, how much you're saving every month, how many miles you want to be able to run, etc. But stopping to appreciate your progress and impact is so important. Someday, I just might be in a position to be able to raise a million dollars for an important cause because I experienced this now, while I'm still in college.
I want to change the world someday. Don't we all?
I think I've already started.
That's a pretty good feeling.
It’s time for some serious real talk: There are nine minutes to go until a phone interview and I’m sitting in my car listening to “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. If that doesn’t scream “SUCCESS,” I don’t know what does. My mom just texted me about an eight pound octopus that escaped down a drain. Fascinating. Octopi are talented. I tried playing Candy Crush for a while, but tragically my five lives lasted less than five minutes, as I could not spread enough Jelly to beat the Jelly Queen. If you think this blog post has sounded ridiculous so far, you need to stop reading because my brain before an interview is like a kid who’s just been set free into a toy store after eating cotton candy, jellybeans, and an ice cream sundae. So here I am, blogging about it.
I’m on edge, but in a good way—I’m excited. I’ve got energy pulsing through my body and I’m glancing over at my phone every 10 seconds, confirming that it is in fact still 3:24 p.m., even though it seems like it has to be 3:30 by now. Here’s what’s silly: I’m excited and I'm happy, but my body clearly thinks that I’m about to have to swim across a moat filled with man-eating crocodiles. That’s the only way I can explain why my hands are shaking with anticipation.
Isn’t it funny that we do this to ourselves? In the moments and seconds leading up to a big event, our bodies go wild with strange sensations and our minds explode with thoughts. If this doesn’t happen to you...well, I feel kinda bad for you. For me, this feeling of excited nervousness and anticipation means that I’m exactly on the right track. It means that I’m following my path and pushing myself to get involved in things that I’m passionate about and that I deeply want to pursue. If I weren’t nervous, I’d know that it’s not something that I really, truly want. I don’t think I’ll ever feel more human than in the five minutes leading up to something like this. Situating yourself right at the edge of your comfort zone is strange and sometimes makes your fingers feel tingly, but it’s good.
The nine minutes are up. It's 3:30.
My favorite part of the house is the front porch. It's not just because the rest of our house is falling apart and you never know whether you're going to find a cockroach or mold when you turn a corner. It's because the breeze and the sunlight can be transformative. It's also because some of my favorite memories have happened on this front porch. Here's a quick list:
Most importantly, when you're walking home from class, there's literally no better feeling in the world than seeing that big yellow house, and knowing who's waiting on the porch for you to get home.
Someone once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." Whoever it was really nailed that one right on the head. Recently this quote, which has been attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, the Bible, and Buddha, popped back into my head. Who knows who actually said it, but I think for a long time, people have been identifying comparison as a dangerous weapon of self-destruction.
We've all seen that one person who just seems to have it all. From our perspective, they've got great friends, great hair, great clothes, a great body, etc. But what does the word "great" actually mean? Often, I think it just means that we think it's better than our friends, our hair, our clothes, our body, etc. And what does any of this actually mean, other than that human nature involves an addiction to ranking things based on how "good" or "bad" we think they are?
Sometimes in defense, people say comparison can motivate you. Yes, sometimes you needed a bit of a push to study harder for that math test. But you didn't get that push because you looked over at your friend's grade. You got that push because when you got back an F, you knew that you could have studied harder. Most of the time, it focuses entirely on what you don't have, rather than what you do. You don't spend time wishing that you had spent the night studying like your friend did. You spend time wishing you had the knowledge, or sometimes, you don't even care about the knowledge and you just want the good grade. At the end of the day, I don't think it's comparison that motivates you. It's guilt or a drive for success or some other emotion that you create within.
It seems we don't often compare ourselves in a good way, and that's what could be actually helpful for boosting our self-esteem. Wouldn't it be great if we all thought, "Wow, she's so funny, just like I am!" I am well aware this could create a terrible epidemic of narcissism, but let me have this one so I can imagine my happy utopia in peace. What I'm getting at here is that there's really not a way comparing yourself to a friend or a stranger or a celebrity will ever make you feel much better. Comparison just isn't designed to work that way. So if you can, try to stop. Sounds easy, but trust me I know it's not. When you've thought one way for a long time, you can't just switch. But start with this: when you're thinking about how great something is about someone else, and how you wish that you were more like that, try to think about the things that make you happy with yourself. Talk to yourself like your best friend would talk to you.
I think that we all deserve to be happy. In college, one of the obvious ways that happiness comes about is from your relationships with others. Recently, I've been talking with some friends about relationships that didn't make us happy--whether friendships or romances--and I've started to realize something we all have in common: at least once in our lives, we've sold ourselves short, thinking that we don't deserve anything better than what we have. How do we find ourselves in that rut of thinking that we have to push aside all negatives and refuse to imagine a better life? Why is it that we'll settle for something, even when it's not easy and it's not making us happy? I'm posing questions here that don't have an easy answer, but they're worth thinking about.
Obviously no relationship of any kind is perfect. There's give and take, there's compromising, there's a big argument every now and then. But when I was sitting around the kitchen table with my roommates, we each had story after story of how many times one side of a relationship wronged the other, whether it was through cheating or lying or general horribleness, and the other simply put up with it. Yeah, sometimes your best friend or your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your lab partner is having a bad day and they let out a few choice words in your direction that aren't sweet. That's forgivable. We all do that. But the people that continue to berate us and beat us down...why are they still in our lives?
People often joke about how savage it is to delete a friend from FaceBook or unfollow someone on Twitter. So, for my generation, imagine how hard it is to imagine cutting someone out of your life not only virtually but also in the real world. It's hard to remove someone completely from your life. For me, I imagine it happening dramatically, even though the reality is that the person who posts negative Twitter rants is so focused on him or herself that it's almost impossible that they'll notice I unfollowed them or that I no longer show up to the group gatherings they host.
I think some people are the type that are so guarded that they hardly ever give pieces of themselves away. I can be like that. But I can also be trusting and extremely emotionally invested in others. What I'm deciding, especially as I get ready to graduate, is that I need to be choosy about the people to whom I give my time and my love. We all need to be picky. We need to stop selling ourselves short, and search for the relationships that make us feel good and whole, without a doubt. There are plenty of people out there who will lift us up, and it's just not worth it to spend time with someone who will bring us down.