There has never been another phase in my life when I have been terrified of a milestone ending while simultaneously fearing the possibility that it’s not really over.
Now, the panic slowly creeps up my spine, unfurling different anxieties on its upward path like a cruel and capricious octopus with exponentially evolving tentacles. At some point over the past two weeks, its tentacles grew spikes and locked in place at the base of my mind. It has placed the reality of graduating in a clear, unobstructed focus that I can no longer deny.
The seemingly double-edged spikes also keep me wondering what will happen if, upon receiving final grades, I’ll be met with that sickening “F” next to a required course. Whether I crawl back to campus to retake another course or somehow pass everything, I guess it’s actually happening. I’ll feign graduating no matter the outcome.
The graduation paperwork has been submitted, the fees have been processed and the administration is incessantly pestering me to do some kind of exit counseling so I don’t default on student loans. I suppose this is the last time I sit at this editorial desk and scramble to fill the last bits of space on the page, a procrastination dance that I’ve nearly perfected—if one could master such things.
Looking back, I never thought I’d sit in this newsroom on Monday nights. Being a part of an editorial staff was a group effort that I never saw myself fitting into. But now, this is the saddest and most nostalgic reflection forced by that damn, spike-tentacled beast.
One fear brought to light, heightened by nights spent riding the full-force panic wave, is that I won’t find another group of people to work with who will inspire me to keep improving each week. The Echo staff is frequently stressed, increasingly cranky as the day dies and prone to taking on too many tasks at once.
However, when the final edits were done and I packed up to leave the newsroom on those Monday production nights, I felt more accomplished and validated than during most of my time at UCA. I also felt closer to a group of, essentially, strangers than I had to much older friends. I will miss you all dearly, far more than I have room to write.
The semester’s final bittersweet days will be filled with another sort of insurmountable panic: What now? How do I justify my extended stay at UCA? What do I have to show for six years of undergraduate experience?
Before last semester, I would’ve said not much. I felt like I’d burned out my glory days in my freshmen and sophomore years when I used to write for The Fountain. For those of you too young to remember, UCA used to have a daily online publication, and before finding The Echo, it was what kept me in the journalism program.
After a few bumps in the road leading to a few medical withdrawals, I somehow missed The Fountain’s decline. I returned from an unexpected hospital stay to find the publication dead and buried. I had already felt a little lost without a real-world application for my writing. Grades in classes never inspired confidence or gave me any direction. The Fountain was my light at the end of the tunnel, something to remind me that I could make it after graduation.
For this, I have former UCA journalism instructor Jim Lovel to thank. Simple thanks are weak in this particular circumstance, because I would be a much more timid and uncertain writer without his influence. I never got to tell him just how much he meant to me.
Whenever I would rattle some cages and get angry emails from Honors College faculty, Lovel was always there to figuratively kick down doors to make my articles happen. He, somewhat begrudgingly at first, gave me more creative freedom with my writing. He let me yell and complain nonsensically until I was blue in the face, and then smiled and told me what a great writer I was.Most of all, he never hesitated to call me out on my mistakes.
It was what I needed most and the advice I wish I had wised up to sooner.
That role fell next to David Keith, a stern and mysterious advisor turned heartfelt counselor who is devoid of negative judgment and quick to help students succeed however he can. I’m sad that it took me nearly five years to realize how important he was in making me feel confident and secure at UCA, even when I felt I had become an entirely different person.
To my many other journalism and anthropology professors, namely Donna Stephens and Duncan McKinnon, thank you for being patient and giving that girl that’s late to every class a second chance to prove herself. You never judged me for my recurring tardiness or my inability to ever get my act entirely together.
Keep on, professors, you’re an endless inspiration.
image via thoughtcatalog.com