Today, I am done.
In August, I walked out of my last exam as an undergraduate student, a political science final where I argued the ethics of ideologies in world headlines. The day before, I handed in my last paper, a five-page piece on global environmental politics. The week before, I finished my last undergraduate class in a political science lecture hall, where I acted as the Vice President of a mock UN Climate Change Convention and sat at the front of a mock conference hall and led conference proceedings.
In hindsight, I probably dedicated far too much time throughout my four years here to complaining about my work load, whining about the papers I probably should have started more than four hours before they were due, and worrying about the grades that always seemed to threaten my very being at this institution.
Flashback to last summer, when UBC sent me an email requesting I withdraw from my faculty, after I had failed five courses and had been placed on academic probation for two years. With a little bit of grit and a whole lot of determination, I managed to successfully transfer out of Sciences into Arts, where I declared a major (at the beginning of my fourth and final year may I add) in Interdisciplinary Studies.
This program enabled me to keep most of my courses that I had gathered from the various faculties and programs I had been a part of while also being able to finish up my last required credits in classes I might actually enjoy.
My two chosen disciplines were Political Science (having taken only one Poli class at that point) and German (being half-German with a solid childhood foundation in the language guided me down that route) and I faced my senior year determined to come out on top.
From a failing <55% average, I turned my academic career on its head and bumped up my GPA to an A-. Not only did my transcript reflect my successes, but just before I was due to start my summer courses this year, I was awarded the Alice H. Shelton Prize and Scholarship for Germanic Studies, a further accreditation proving just how far I’d come.
And somehow, I still managed to squeeze it all into exactly four years, leaving this campus four Septembers after I had arrived as a naive little freshman armed with a few suitcases at Totem Park Residence eager to start the exciting journey of undergraduate life.
I would be lying if I said that university was just a pile of stressful academics, and while it certainly included plenty of that, it held a great deal more. Having not only been to classes on this beautiful campus, but also having spent the past four years living here, UBC has become my home.
I walked across the stage today to collect what is single-handedly the most expensive piece of paper I will ever own. I cannot, however, put a pricetag on what it symbolizes: every tear, breath, laugh, yell, shout, pause and sigh that has been the soundtrack of my university career.
Being a university graduate ready to take on the real world is an intimidating thought in itself, and at merely twenty, that thought is even more prevalent. While I am thrilled to be done a full Bachelor’s degree two years earlier than others my age (thanks to a high school graduation aged 16), I sometimes catch myself wishing I had the chance to live it out just a bit longer.
It was this past year that I truly fell in love with being a student, and realized how lucky I was that my only true responsibility was to learn as much and as well as I possibly could.
I filled my spare time with a number of clubs, sports teams, sorority events, volunteering opportunities, a busy and fulfilling social life, travels around the world and beautiful friendships and relationships. I discovered the beauty of the outdoors, and hiked my way across the many trails and mountains of BC. In conjunction, I explored my love for being creative and imaginative and began to become seriously interested in photography and writing and sharing what I created online.
That being said, I cannot appreciate the beauty in life without experiencing the negativity. I struggled with failure, both academically and personally. I lost friends along the way. I made choices I regretted. I spent a bulk of my four years recovering from dance injuries that had caused original future life goals to crumble out from underneath me, resulting in not only physical damage, but emotional and mental too.
Ironically, I began my freshman year with a broken left ankle including a chipped bone and a torn ligament, and ended my senior year with stress fractures in my right tibia – both saw me in a cast and on crutches – evidence of the full-circle ending of my university experience.
But through it all, the determination to persevere, and to prove to everyone around me – most importantly to myself – that I was worthy and capable shone through.
So, now I face the gap in my soul that was once filled by the all-inclusive “student life” package. Six apartments, five programs, four years, three sorority years, two faculties (and a million little moments in between) have produced one degree.
But I will proudly hold up that piece of paper with my name on it, because I damn well earned it.