Happier, healthier, and smarter: A graduating senior reflects on her UT Dallas experience

By Christina Lanier

I woke up on April 11th to a Google Calendar reminder. Nothing unusual there- I have to set reminders for everything otherwise I’ll accidentally miss every meeting I schedule. The anxiety-inducing aspect of this otherwise innocuous alarm was the fact that it was the reminder I set to go off a month before graduation.

I jumped out of bed; any hope I had of sleeping in was shot. How could this be? I wasn’t done with my capstone, I still had 50 million exams and term papers due before then. What had I done? I milled through my day with the lingering fear that had so rudely awoken me before the sun. Why was I doing this to myself? Why was I graduating early? Why was I even in school????

Of course, the answer to all of those questions was that I had a desire to better myself. I wanted to do what I love. Getting degrees was par for the course. The implicit assumption underlying all of this motivation only occurred to me after a great deal of contemplation (which was, admittedly, a form of procrastination): I wasn’t just doing this for myself. I was doing this to show my parents that even though we didn’t have the money for tutors, college admissions advisers, SAT prep courses, their kid could do this. That they were capable of raising a child who could do better than what their circumstances could predict.

My contemplation over a cup of coffee and procrastination led me to two other realizations. These are things that all of you, my lovely readers, should think about as you approach the impending doom of graduation. Or, frankly, as soon as you start college. You’ve probably heard this before but you’re reading this so I get to nag again.

Be okay with parents gloating. They’re going to do it anyway, so just come to terms with it. I cannot tell you how many of my mom’s friends and coworkers have heard about me but never met me. Even my grandmother’s gym friends know my name. Why? Because they love you and are extremely proud of you. It may be embarrassing, but wouldn’t you do the same for your kid? In a few decades, you will be (trust me).

Stay active (yes, really *sigh*). My first two years of college, I loathed exercise. I laughed at the prospect of working out, even as I saw how much it improved the lives of those around me. I started working out last summer more consistently, and I haven’t stopped since then. Working out is a great way to beat stress and improve your health. Additionally, it has taught me to love my body. It’ll make you be more conscious about your health-related decisions (I’m looking at you, past me in the drive through). Because college can really mess with your body image, health, and wellness, don’t skip out on that quick trip to the AC. Can’t make it to the gym? Try videos online or join a club or rec team on campus. There’s some form of exercise for even the pickiest. You’ll thank me, and everyone else who has nagged you, later.

I’m going to be thinking about both those things as I walk across the stage on May 11th. I’ll look out to the audience and I’ll see my mom crying, waving fiercely as her only child succeeds at everything she wishes she could have done. For her, money, marriage, and life got in the way. Next to her will be my step-father saluting with a thumbs up and a big smile. Later that day, I’ll look in the mirror and realize how much I’ve changed since my first day at UT Dallas. I’m happier, healthier, and certainly smarter. I can thank UT Dallas for all three of those life improvements.

In closing, college will fly by whether it takes you three years or ten or anywhere in between. Don’t coast through this experience with a closed mind and a blind eye to all of the things that matter. This is the chance to figure out who you are and who you want to be. While I certainly know that now, I wish I had realized that sooner.

Take it all in, friends, and enjoy the journey. This is my not-so-farewell to college life. I’ll watch you all from afar as I sit over my grad school books and at the next treadmill over at the gym. I’ll remember when I was in your position with a tinge of nostalgia and a little bit of happiness that I get to watch you grow.

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