At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, our students ID cards show the picture of us from freshman orientation. Sometimes I look at the 17 year old with a smile from ear to ear on mine and hardly recognize her. If someone had told me everything I would experience in my four years of undergraduate education, I would have dismissed it as nothing I had planned or wanted. I would have been right, but luckily no one did tell me and I am a stronger, more complex person because of the unexpected things that have happened in my life. I believe that life is rarely what we want or expect it to be, but we can’t let that stop us from experiencing it.
My graduating class did not allow the events on 9-11-2001 to stop us from living, learning, and making a difference. It is easy to combat fear collectively; there is so much strength in a prayer circle or a candle light vigil. And with the culture of fear defeated we were able to face the challenges of our individual fears knowing that everyone around us knew and experienced those same feelings. As a freshman I was terrified that life was not going exactly as I planned. But when my suite mates and I became overwhelmed by the potential of the unexpected, we found strength in each other. More importantly, together we were able to just live and experience. There were no expectations for the future, there were only six girls dancing around a small dorm room and singing “No day but today” at the top of their lungs. In each other we learned more about ourselves and what we could do rather than just what we had planned to do. My life is not what I planned out four years ago, it is better because of nights like those.
I enter the next stage of my life with few expectations. There are many things I would like to do but I know that as I move on I will discover more experiences that I never knew were possible. A year ago I would have been terrified by the unknown aspects of my life, today they excite me. Every person I have met and every experience I have had has prepared me for this moment. There is no way to express my gratitude and appreciation for every one who has had an impact on my past 22 years of life, except to keep living life to its fullest.
Life is real at whatever age it is experienced. Pain, joy, frustration, and anger are just as real to me as they are to the freshmen who live across the hall. What is more important is to savor the experience itself. Life should be felt, heard, seen, and cherished. No matter what we expect life to be, we cannot be afraid to just let go and live. Congratulations, class of 2006. Keep the experience alive.
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