This is a picture of me that was taken just a few days ago. I was sitting near the stage in a crowded arena with roughly 8,000 people in it. I look pretty calm, but boy, was I terrified.
I spent the last four years of my life in my own cozy little collegiate microcosm. I savored every moment that I could, enjoying every memory as it was made. I basked in the infinite knowledge of my professors, crashed their office hours on a regular basis, and even babysat their children. I made unforgettable memories with wonderful friends, successfully saw myself through dark times and into better ones, and found love. The romantic kind, yes... but I also found out that I want to spend the rest of my life singing and making music.
You can't see it above, thank goodness, but I was shaking like a leaf when that picture was taken. The poor girl next to me must have thought I was crazy. After all, graduation isn't supposed to be so bad. Sad? Sure. Optimistic? Definitely. But terrifying? No. Don't you just have to walk across a stage once and be done with it?
You see, I never imagined this day would actually come. Sure, I knew that college wouldn't last forever, but I could never actually picture graduation day happening. I also couldn't picture what life post-graduation would entail. Leaving the security blanket of my small liberal arts college was too daunting a thought to process, so I just didn't do it.
So when the biggest moment of my life finally presented itself before me, I didn't know how to deal with it. I don't mean walking across the stage to receive my diploma (even though that was a little nerve-wracking): I was chosen to sing the National Anthem and our school's Alma Mater in front of over 8,000 people during the graduation ceremony.
If you look closely, you can see the true terror I was experiencing. There I was, sticking out like a sore thumb in front of thousands, allowing myself to be vulnerable by sharing my passion with them. Everyone's eyes were on me, ready to judge at will. I couldn't even look at myself on the jumbo-tron.
In a similar way, this is how I felt about graduating from college. I'd been preparing to be employable for four years while studying music, networking, building a substantial resume, and keeping my grades up at the same time. Right now, I am putting myself out there with job applications and interviews, allowing potential employers to gawk at me and judge me. I feel completely self-conscious and unnerved about 99.9% of the time.
But standing up on that stage it wasn't all that bad. Surprisingly, there was some solace to be found at that podium. I'm sure nobody else in that arena even recognized it, but I sure did: behind me was the president of our college, singing along in that booming, jovial voice of his to every single word I sang.
Not only was this extraordinarily comforting, as if I didn't have to worry about singing because if I messed up he could swoop in and save the day, but it reminded me that we're never actually alone in what we do. Our friends, mentors, and colleagues will always manifest themselves in some way in our daily thoughts and actions. What we learn in the classroom transposes seamlessly into the real world, allowing us to tread fearlessly into our futures, fully armed and ready to take on any challenge that comes our way. Our experiences transform us into who we are today, and we carry them with us always in our back pocket.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has made these last four years monumentally unforgettable: my friends, my family, my favorite professors, my colleagues and my peers. Every little joke, every valuable lesson learned, every moment shared, whether joyful or sorrowful, has transformed me in some way. I am not the same person I was when I entered college four years ago: I am much, much better and constantly improving because of the ways you all challenged me to think. Because of you, I am ready at this point in my life to step out into reality and take flight.
So, thank you. For everything.