It’s been three years since I graduated from FSU. I remember much of that day vividly, though I really didn’t journal about it. I remember crying when Philip and Stacy left my house the night before because I didn’t know what to expect of our still-young friendships. I remember pulling over on my way to Schoolfield’s graduation party and crying off my make up. I was suddenly unsure about the early graduation I’d so long anticipated. I remember an early dinner at Carraba’s and running from Wescott to the Civic Center after taking pictures. I remember the blisters that made for a painful walk across the stage. I remember a half-hearted visit to Stetson’s.
Then just as quickly as it began, it was over. I was a college graduate, young and uncertain of what was next. I had a graduate school acceptance on one hand and a whole lot of nothing on the other.
I don’t remember when I decided not to go to Alabama, though I remember the fear and self consciousness that held me back. And I can still vividly recall the night when I began to reconsider that decision.
I’d been a graduate for almost six months by then—I was actually one day shy of that anniversary. I knew I couldn’t stay in my current master’s program. I was clinging to memories that had passed and friendships that were changing.
Against that backdrop, a stranger innocently asked why I hadn’t gone to Alabama. Though I risk crediting that simple question with too much power, it was then that I began to take slow, tentative steps toward Tuscaloosa.
It was in a coffee shop in that small Southern city that I celebrated the first year I’d held a bachelor’s degree. That degree hadn’t gotten me far at that point—I hadn’t even decided yet to enroll in the master’s program from which I would eventually graduate. But I was finally at a point where I was willing to take risks (however small). I was only 21 years old.
I guess I have grown up a bit in the years since my college graduation. I’m more confident in my relationships. My friends are still terribly important to me, but I don’t base major life decisions on them anymore. Though they do provide a sense of security, I’ve seen how my relationships grow, change and encourage me regardless of what city and state I call home.
Now I have a master’s degree. I guess that’s the most obvious difference, but its significance is more in the gamble and passion that earned it than in the degree itself. Student loans and writing at the risk of rejection aren’t what most thrill seekers pursue, but they were big steps for a little girl who thought she had life planned out at age 20.
I’m where I dared to dream I’d be. When I took the GRE with little preparation and a runny nose, it was with the hope of earning an education and a job in Sweet Home Alabama. On this day three years ago, I was scared to take that chance.
I think the 20-year-old me would be proud of who her 23-year-old self has become.