Well, everyone, if you’re reading this, you did it. We survived. 2016 is over. At times that felt like a sentence I would never type, and at others it was a sentence I never wanted to type. Yeah, I said it. There were times I never wanted 2016 to end. An ardent defender of the year, I’ll be the first to admit it was no walk in the park. Maybe if the park was on fire and you’re running through it because you’re being pursued by killer clowns. But if you look past the sheer mania of the year, I’m sure you can find some things for which you can be thankful.
As a kid, I would constantly tell my parents that 2016 was the highest number there was. I really don’t know what motivated me to make that my mantra, but I did. There were times this year that I thought maybe I’d somehow tapped into some prophetic vein and heralded the apocalypse as a toddler, but looking back on the entirety of 2016, I can see that it was a zenith of some sort. It was a height. So much changed and grew and evolved throughout this one year, it’s impossible to articulate how greatly this year shaped me. Since so many people have gotten bogged down in the negativity of the waning months of the year, I decided to comprise a list of the top seven (we are entering 2017 after all) things that happened to me personally this year.
I graduated this year, which was something I had kind of always assumed was an overrated milestone. I never really understood all the celebration and hoopla over something so seemingly mediocre. That was always my personal philosophy about graduations, at least until my own started looming. I was always that person who just thought words like future and college were abstract concepts that would never get any nearer than the distant horizon. Sure, these things eventually caught up with other people, but in my head I’m still very much an overgrown kindergartner who refuses to eat anything other than grilled cheese sandwiches and double checks my left versus right knowledge by making an “L” with my thumb and pointer finger. I’ve admittedly grown from that youngster quite a bit in certain aspects--I’ve read an awful lot, I appreciate old movies even more now and my ambitions and pretensions have grown immensely--but on the whole I still feel very connected to my five-year-old self who got put in timeout for refusing to tie my shoes (long story short: I didn’t know how at the time, but my pride refused to allow me to admit that to my teacher). And on top of my lack of preparedness or general maturity in many respects, I was comfortable. I loved all my friends. I loved my hometown. I did not want to accept the impending reality graduation would mean no matter how much I knew I had no choice. The future was a bright light growing ever closer, but like Dawson and Joey, I was not sure if it was the bright light at the end of the tunnel meaning freedom and new opportunities or if it was the headlights of a semi-truck barreling towards me. That’s when I realized graduations were not overrated or oversold. All the hype and build up was a chance for my friends and I to relax, indulge in our nostalgia, take a few steps back to breathe and not think about the future and just exist within that tunnel without questioning the intentions of the looming light. It was a much needed reprieve, and the night itself ended up being everything I ever wanted it to be. Surrounded by my closest friends, cloaked in a dark robe reminiscent of Rehnquist, I reveled in my connection to that hapless, helpless kindergartner because I knew in that moment everything turned out okay for her. Not in the way she expected it, not even close, but she turned out just fine. And if I could say that then, I took solace in my firm belief that my thirty-year-old self will be able to say the same to the memory of me having freshly graduated from high school.
2. Starting college
So the bright light ended up being anything but a semi-truck. Though there were plenty of tears and lots of heartrending moments that paved the end stretch of that mysterious tunnel, I made it to the other side virtually unscathed, and the other side was rife with opportunities and freedom. I never believed the transition to college would be as seamless as it was. I did not believe people when they said you would just look around one day and suddenly feel at home and content in your dorm or with your new set of friends. I just knew I would miss my MawMaw or my best friend too much. I really can’t tell you exactly how or when this happened, but one day I did just wake up and feel at home. I still haven’t stopped missing my MawMaw or my best friend (and not just because Emily would totally kill me if I said any different), but I know I’m where I need to be and they understand that. Plus, none of my friendships suffered from my move; they all altered and changed somewhat, but none are any less now than they were before. Starting college was a huge milestone for me, one I worried would trip me up at times, but now I’m grateful that it’s one of the components that made 2016 such a peak in my life.
3. My sister got engaged
I pretty much had to put this one if I wanted to avoid a sibling fight and possibly some tears, but I probably would have used it anyway because it is a pretty significant advancement. Turns out, I’m not the only one who have major milestones this year. My sister is the type of person who’s been thirty since she came out of the womb, so sometimes I forget that she’s actually only three years older than me (but don’t you forget it because then I’ll be angry. It’s only three years. T-H-R-E-E. She’s not that much older than me. Sheesh). Her engagement, which came only a month or so into my semester, helped to put my own highs and lows into perspective, and reminded me that life was still going on even though I was away. The world was still spinning, and people were still going about their daily lives even though I wasn’t there to witness it. It was a weird realization to come to, but I would not have wanted to come to it any other way. My sister had officially found the person she wanted to share the rest of her life with, and that was a beautiful thing. Just like I was becoming more and more removed from that struggling kindergartner, she was maturing far beyond the bossy third grader who made it her life’s mission to be my second mother. These changes were good. They were necessary. We were evolving and growing as individuals and sisters, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Okay, maybe I would have been there for her proposal, but hey…
4. I witnessed RBG’s operatic debut
Perhaps the saddest passing for me to cope with in 2016 was Justice Antonin Scalia’s. It took me completely by surprise, and I don’t think I’ll ever be truly over it. In comparison to other moments on this list, this one may seem trivial, but it fits with the theme of one chapter closing whilst another opens. I had the distinct honor and privilege to attend the Washington National Opera on the evening Justice Ginsburg made her operatic debut. See, she and her best friend, Nino (as Scalia was known to her and his other close friends) would often attend the opera together, and even would frequently join the chorus or play background parts when their schedules allowed. Following his untimely death, it was unclear whether or not Justice Ginsburg would continue this jovial tradition as a solo act. Rather than continuing in the absence of her dear friend, RBG decided to revamp the tradition entirely, and took on a speaking role for her triumphant return to the opera. It was truly magnificent to behold, as the aging justice conducted herself with a level of authority and gravitas that it seemed as if she carried the weight of the world inside her slight frame. I imagine Scalia smiled on the whole affair. I know I did.
5. The election season
Perhaps the chief source of strife for some American’s pertaining to this past year, I found the election season to be something for which I am sincerely thankful. Not just because it resulted in my desired outcome, but because I was able to experience it from what felt like its very center. Living in D.C. during such a historic election was something I will never forget. Being surrounded by it everywhere I went was maddening, but exactly how I wanted it to be. To finally be able to cast a ballot and know my voice was heard was one of the greatest moments of my life thus far. The result and everything else was a nice bonus.
6. I met some pretty cool people
Not just my new college friends/family, although they are all very awesome. Living in D.C. and taking advantage of all the opportunities that allotted me made for some pretty cool stories. Throughout 2016 I: got a high five from Donald Trump, went to a Q&A with Chris Kelly and Beck Bennett, had a nice conversation with Cecily Strong, took pictures and spoke with Mike Pence, saw both Karen Pence and Melania Trump speak at their only major campaign rally, saw Hillary Clinton’s motorcade, got chummy with some of the Trump family Secret Service detail, got on a first name basis with some members of the Capitol Police and the local D.C. news affiliates, was interviewed by C-SPAN and DCist and I began a written correspondence with Clarence Thomas. Some of these names never should be in a list together, but that just shows the breadth of my experiences. On my to-do list for 2017: meet Natalie Portman, become friends with Nikki Haley and get a selfie with Melania.
7. My dad finished his chemo treatments
Major milestones this year were not just limited to my sister and me. My dad decided to show us both up in that department. On my first day of classes, he had surgery to remove what turned out to be a cancerous mass from his lung. On my last official day of classes for the semester, he had his final treatment. I joke that all he wants to do now is cry and testify, but I suppose there are worse ways he could be spending his time. His journey perfectly encapsulates how 2016 was not an easy road by any means, but I think we’re all coming out of it stronger than we were going in, and we should thank this year for that. It served as a crucible of sorts. It refined us. It strengthened us. And if nothing else, it gave us a testimony.
2016 brought some major trials and tribulations, but I’m a firm believer that those birth our greatest triumphs. Out of vanquishment comes victory. Out of affliction comes accomplishment. I fervently implore you to think back on your year and all you have for which to be thankful. May 2017 only get better.