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by Briana Livelsberger

Even in kindergarten, I knew I was going to college. Granted, I had no clue what college meant at the time, I just thought it was a boring school for “old” people. Which was why I was so upset when my kindergarten “boyfriend” said we could get married after we graduated from college. How could I wait so long? Anyway, I didn’t know what I’d study or what I’d do, I just knew that college was in my future. And, for a while, I didn’t think much about college outside of that fact.

However, growing up in a family with financial concerns and then later with my diagnoses of my different diseases, the importance of college became well known to me. College seemed like it was the best way to get a career in which I would have a good and steady income, so that I didn’t have to worry about financial security ever again. I didn’t know then that the federal loans needed to pay for college would be something to worry about or that I would be graduating into an economic recession. Still, college would give me added security even through times like these. In addition, as I learned more about how my diseases affected me, college seemed to be the only way to get a job that wasn’t physically demanding. I couldn’t trust my body to be able to carry me through a retail or manual labor job, but my mind was sound (still is). Even though I knew these things in middle school, I still didn’t think too much about it. It felt like a long way off before I would get so “old” as to go to college.

Later on in middle school, I started thinking about what I might study. At the time I was convinced I wanted to go to Yale to study acting (since I thought that my writing was both fantastic already and that it would improve without needing to study in college). I never acted before, and I never acted after, but I loved the idea of acting. Eventually, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do. However, it was the first time that one of my dreams was related to college.

It was in my last two years of high school when I started panicking. I was always one to stress about perfect grades but once high school rolled around, I felt that I had to get perfect grades if I wanted a college to even think about me. I was also dealing with more issues due to my chronic illnesses so I sought a way to find control, even if the stress I put on myself made my health worse. I knew that college was my ticket to being able to support myself, so what was a bit of stress if I was able to achieve this goal?

In my senior year, I did a couple college tours. I looked at schools with smaller campuses, worried both about my ability to get around a campus with my health issues and large groups of people. However, one campus I toured made me feel like my future was bright and that I would be able to achieve anything during my time there. It was that college that made my second college-related dream form. I loved the atmosphere, the people, and the professors. I could feel deep within my gut that I was where I needed to be, that I needed to attend this school. It was the only college I wanted to go to and so it was the only one I applied seriously too.

That could’ve been the end of the dream right there. If I wasn’t accepted, I don’t know where I would’ve gone or if I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. There were also concerns about whether I’d be able to afford it. I couldn’t take out any loans aside from the federal ones so I would have to pay whatever was left over that those loans and scholarships didn’t cover. If I didn’t get a good scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to afford to go. I think if that happened, I would have tried again in a year, after saving up money. Both of these realities could have easily been mine and it was pure luck that I was both accepted and given an amazing scholarship. Of course, I did work hard throughout high school so that gave me a better chance that these things would happen but still, it could have easily gone a different way.

Thankful for the opportunity to be able to study and help myself move forward in life, an opportunity I knew was only given to some, I started college off determined to prove that I deserved this chance. I spent most of my time studying and working, wanting the best grades I could possibly have. I often prioritized school over health, thinking that I’d have plenty of time to deal with my health when I graduated. I thought that, if I put my mind to it, I could do everything I wanted with minimal side effects.

I learned that this was true, to an extent. The stress of college affected me more than I thought it would and aggravated my diseases. I often had to make decisions about whether I was going to go to class or not when I was feeling like I was going to throw up or like my heart was going to explode. I would go to class with searing migraines and trembling hands, knowing that I needed to save my absences for doctors’ appointments or for the days when leaving my bed was impossible. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I went through a lot. I fought every day with myself in order to achieve my dream of graduating from that school.

The idea of proving myself worthy of the opportunity to be in college never went away. Since everyone isn’t able to go to college, I did what I could so that I wasn’t throwing away the opportunity I was given. I felt it was my responsibility to do well and graduate for everyone who couldn’t, whether they were sick like me or poor like me or from circumstances completely different from my own.

Now that I’ve graduated, I finally realize that the feeling was only in my mind, no one was outright judging me or my accomplishments or my worthiness of being in school. I realize that, no matter what, graduating college is an amazing accomplishment. No matter how someone approaches college or what life throws at you during your time there, it is something to marvel at.

The first of my dreams, the first of my lifelong goals, has come true. It’s a strange feeling after spending my life in school to not be a student anymore. But, for the first time, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my chest. For the first time, I know that I did something amazing. That I’m amazing.

Congratulations to the amazing Class of 2020! We did it!

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