I should have graduated last May. I should have ended my college career. The "best four years of my life" were supposed to be over and I should have been getting an adult job. But they didn't end, because I didn’t graduate.
Over the course of the past four years and change, I’ve attended four different universities in two different states. I’ve changed my major three times. I am a year behind because not many of my credits in my changing my field of study transferred to other state colleges. Seeing all of my fellow high school classmates graduate and get ready to start their lives was a little disheartening at first. It felt like I failed myself because I’m graduating in five years instead of four, which I thought made me not as good as them. But then I realized it’s not that uncommon.
It’s something called The Four-Year Myth. According to this study from Complete College America, only 36 percent of students who graduate do so within four years. While there are many factors that go into graduation time, such as funding or personal family issues, I think it’s important to tell people they’re not alone in having to complete an extra year. I’ve known of people who drop out just because they might have failed a class or two and thought it put them so far back that they would never finish college. Unless you’ve decided college isn’t for you, I don’t think quitting because you’ll take longer than the next person is the solution to your problem. You don’t quit running a race and walk off the track just because you see everyone in front of you. Eventually you’ll get to the finish line.
As I think about the past four years and everywhere I have been, I’ve reflected on the many things I’ve learned that I don’t think I have would been able to while staying in one place for four years. Obviously transferring three times was not ideal, but it definitely taught me a lot about people, cultures and myself.
1. Distance can make or break your relationships.
Some friendships or relationships will thrive. Others won’t be willing to not see you physically -- they forget that planes and trains exist. Some people can’t be their own person and some won’t support the people they "care" about. You’ll figure out who’s truly there for you.
2. Leaving a place won’t fix your problems.
I thought leaving my high school town was going to be the best thing to ever happen to me. And then I thought leaving my first college town was going to be the best thing to ever happen me. Through a lot of searching for the next best place, I had to look within myself. I realized that it’s not about where you are -- it’s about your outlook. I realized I had to stop looking for somewhere better to go and to be content with where I was. I realized blaming the type of people that were there wasn't an excuse anymore. There are mean and bad people everywhere. I had to quit saying "peace out" the second something went wrong.
3. Hug the people you care about.
Easily the most important lesson I’ve learned from bouncing all over the country is that everything is temporary. You don’t know when the last time you see someone will be. Moving to and from different places, I met a lot of people I care about. I can't possibly be in every place when I want to be. It's taught me to right my wrongs because we don’t always get second chances.
4. Your happiness is more important than however long it takes to obtain a piece of paper.
Being unhappy and feeling stuck is the worst feeling ever. But you're not stuck. Luckily, I had my family behind me in every choice I've made. Every time I decided to go somewhere else, they supported me because they just wanted me to be happy. It doesn't matter what all your Facebook friends think about you moving or graduating late. It doesn't matter that I'm behind a year. I don't know where I would be right now if I had never left my first school. But what matters is that I'm finally happy where I am.