Graduating from college rarely felt like something I was striving to accomplish. With the exception of a few incredible high school teachers, I don’t remember truly enjoying school past third grade.
My disdain towards university may come as a surprise to some. I’m an advocate for equality, a voracious reader, curious, and interested in capturing the world through all mediums of art. Yet, traditional classroom learning never fully quenched my thirst for knowledge.
After attending a rigorous, college-oriented school for five years, I felt obligated to attend an equally rigorous university next. In hindsight, I recognize how much is wrong with that assumption. Learning within the confines of a bubble of privilege, it took me time to understand all of the injustices in the education system. As a teenager, I worked to sustain arts programs at public schools and provide lesson plans, but I didn’t fully grasp the bigger picture until I was out of my high school environment.
Back in 2015, when I was asked to consider my goals and interests for my guidance counselor, I recall writing about my desire to live in a treehouse in Bali where I’d spend my days journaling in cafés, drinking mint tea, freelancing, and making art.
While I stand by those ambitions, I certainly did not regard them as valid dreams to chase after at the time. Instead, I applied to a handful of prestigious schools, got accepted, enrolled, completed high school, and off I went to start a life that was mine but also wasn’t really mine.
I thank my freshman year for teaching me the importance of living my truth (even if that meant never enrolling in school again). I thank my freshman year for providing with me some of my most loved memories: the road trip to Morro Bay, the adventures with zebras in San Simeon, watching Bob Dylan perform from a ferris wheel with Katie, McConnell’s Ice Cream on my 18th birthday, visits to the Santa Barbara Zoo, and the everlasting friendships. I thank my freshman year for giving me the distance to critically consider my alternatives.
While studying Art full time with an intense course load, I completed a certificate program and developed all of the initial plans and posts for my soon-to-be blog from the French Press Café.
I thank my freshman year for allowing me to realize that working in cafés was a want I could satisfy and that maybe, just maybe, I’d been on to something at 17 after all.
So, I packed my whole life up into boxes again, packed those boxes into my blue VW Beetle, and drove back down the coast to home where I embarked on a spontaneous gap year.
I thank my gap year for giving me the time to pick up the pieces, find love, rediscover myself, and complete another certificate program inching me closer to finding where passion and career may intersect. I thank my gap year for giving me the time and space to think and create freely. I thank my gap year for teaching me the importance of never compromising my life to make other people happy. I thank my gap year for carrying me to New York where I attended an info session at The New School and discovered a program that resonated. I thank my gap year for teaching me that I should never hold back from asking for things that I know will serve me out of fear.
As a senior in high school, I didn’t realize I could even ask to complete my BA online or through hybrid learning let alone do just that. I didn’t realize I could venture down multiple academic avenues at once by completing certificates alongside my degree work. I didn’t realize it was possible to get more out of school and life when in the right environment. As a visual learner, free thinker, planner, color-coder, artist, and inspiration seeker, the pace and structure of traditional learning was not designed with me in mind. I didn’t realize I could ask for a different option and be presented with one as perfect as The New School.
Now, as I have just graduated, I thank my junior and senior years for showing me that I am free to ask the world for everything I desire—there’s no need to accept less than that. I thank these years for opening my eyes to the injustices in the world at large through Activism and Social Justice oriented courses. I thank these years for transforming me from a person who didn’t fully grasp the value of education to someone who aims to change the convoluted, capitalist-oriented, elitist structure of university. Quality education should be completely equal and attainable for everyone. This is a huge infrastructure to topple, which is why my focus moving forward is on making the arts accessible to people of all backgrounds, but, I thank the past four years for teaching me to see my own privilege and simply use the benefits of my identity to help and advocate for others—which is what everyone should be doing.
Everyone’s path to graduation is different. As someone who initially resisted school, it’s funny how I wound up completing my degree in only three years by taking summer classes and up to seven courses a semester. I’m walking away from college with my BA in Creative Writing with Honors as well as certifications in Fashion Industry Essentials and Children’s Book Writing and Illustration. The New School’s flexibility and progressive culture allowed me to reach my highest potential as I completed my undergraduate studies everywhere from my bedroom in California to museums in London. I know that my 17 year-old self would be happy about all the mint tea I drank, all the art I made and sold, and all the journals I filled along the way. I gained so many valuable experiences over the past few years that would not have been possible without The New School and I am endlessly grateful to the professors, staff, and of course my family for their support.
As I’m sure is true for all current graduates, it’s really weird for this chapter to have closed during such a unique time. For me, instead of celebrating in New York City with my peers and old friends, seeing The Rolling Stones, and being with my whole family—I was at home, just like any other day.
Although this accomplishment may not feel monumental for many students graduating in 2020, this ceremony is even more collective than ever before. Regardless of whether you’re a high school senior or completing university, what continent you're from, or what school you attended, all students around the globe graduating in 2020 will forever share this experience of a virtual commencement. I may meet someone a decade from now across the ocean and have shared in this same experience despite any other factors.
I don’t believe distance needs to stand in the way of gratitude. I reached out to some of my professors so I could send hand painted thank you cards their way. Little acts of kindness can truly brighten someone’s day, and in this confusing time I think it’s especially important to spread love.
I graduated in a spring full of uncertainty, but despite the state of the planet, the flowers are continuing to bloom and I feel I can do the same from everything I learned over the past four years, but mainly from my education at The New School.
Let this serve as a thank you to my parents, sister, family, and closest friends who guided and inspired me on this journey and stood by me no matter how far I wandered off the beaten path. Thank you to all of my professors with particular gratitude towards my wonderful thesis advisor, Lisa Freedman. Finally, thank you to YOU, whoever you are and wherever you are reading this—you and this blog have been with me throughout my entire undergraduate experience and I am endlessly happy to have shared my college years with you through my writing and art work.
With California sunshine,
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