It’s easier to acclimate to semesters now. My body knows the swing of a school year like its own heartbeat, the way it flutters in fits now and again but usually just plods on, steady as can be. This semester is in no way significantly different from others, but, for the first time, my matriculation into it didn’t feel like an event. The semester just is and I am a part of it.
I think it has to do with time. It is no longer shocking to me that I would be beginning another academic year. It will probably not be shocking to me when I end this semester, either, because it will be the tenth I’ve completed (which is wild and too many, but oh well). What has been hitting me, and hitting me hard, is the thought that I’m almost done with this degree. At this point, it’s not even just a thought- it’s reality. By the second week of December, I will have completed the last requirements for my BS and will qualify to graduate.
I can’t lie: I’m overwhelmed. When my adviser pulled up my degree audit on her computer and pointed to those big red letters at the top, I was overcome with that particular kind of full-body weeping that takes every worry you have and clears them from your system. I knew it was going to feel good, but I didn’t expect to feel this utterly relieved. The weight of the past few years has been lifted off my shoulders, and I am still getting used to the lightness. Making it this far did not feel like an inevitability. In fact, at various points during my undergraduate tenure, I wasn’t at all sure I was going to.
My secondary school career was a disaster to put it gently, so I either lost or failed to acquire the skills necessary to be successful in college while everything went to hell in a handbasket. My first year back was rough. I had stopped reading, I couldn’t do basic algebra, I didn’t know how to stay organized, and I was blindsided by how hard it was to balance full-time work with full-time academics and extracurricular activities. That whole year felt like a fever dream. I drifted through the halls of my community college feeling acutely out-of-place, remembering in weaker moments how I failed out of high school and frantically trying to avoid a repeat incident. I withdrew from a few classes I was bombing, accepted the Bs I earned as gracefully as I could, met with my instructors more often than the most devout Catholic meets with their parish priest, and cried all the time. But I survived the year and buckled down harder. Semesters ended like an exhale after a holding of breath until, somewhere along the way, I learned to breathe through them.
In my first few months at Ohio State, I ignored the pain from a severely abscessed tooth while the infection spread up into my sinus cavity. I didn’t have relevant health insurance and was broke beyond broke after having to pay for four-digit car repairs. It got to the point where half my face was constantly throbbing, I couldn’t chew solid food, and I couldn’t get to sleep at night. I mourned having to take the only option I saw: leaving school for a semester, getting another job, and paying off the huge credit card bill I was about to amass by having a root canal and getting a crown placed while on a course of antibiotics. A friend of mine told his parents about my situation, and they footed the bill because they wanted me to focus on my education. I’m not their child and they have no obligation to me, but their generosity kept me in school that year. I can’t fathom the depth of compassion it takes to do what they did, but I aspire to be as unquestioningly kind and giving as they are and to keep in mind that no one succeeds entirely of their own volition.
Every semester had its own upheaval. I appealed to financial aid (x4), applied for and received emergency grants, and worked twelve jobs (I just counted) over the past few years. Friends, family members, and mentors passed away while I somehow survived a black ice car accident and managed to come to terms with (some of) my trauma, arm-wrestling old demons as they came. Some days everything felt hopeless, but I still showed up as I could, and I am grateful.
As I sit and fill out forms for my graduate school applications, type draft after hideous draft of my personal statement, and study for standardized tests, all I can think about is what a privilege it is to be here, now. There were many ways that this could have not-happened and few ways that it could have, and I am the luckiest.
Someday, maybe I’ll get used to this feeling, too.