I graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania on May 12, 2017, and was given the honor of speaking at my Journalism and Public Relations department's commencement ceremony. I was asked to "tell my story." With a very general sense of direction, I did it. Here it is:
"Graduating from high school, after only visiting three universities, I only applied to one. IUP. Now, that can’t be said for the first few weeks… I applied to three other schools after the frustration of not finding my place here. I thought I was supposed to meet people during orientation and my classes and have wonderful college adventures like I’d seen in movies and on TV, not sitting in my room typing up an online journal, leaving my room for only classes and food.
Then, I finally found my place. I found a Christian group on campus that made all the difference. I found a group of friends that were there when I needed it and it allowed me to grow in my own faith journey with God.
Now that I had friends, I needed my passion. I needed something that I could do for the rest of my life. A major. A career path. I came into college as hospitality management, wanting to work as a cruise ship director, having fun and traveling for the rest of my life. After only being at school for a few weeks and being extremely homesick, I knew that being on a ship for months at a time, completely isolated from my loved ones and surrounded by strangers, this wasn’t for me.
Like I said before, most of my first semester was documented on an online journal and I found my passion in writing. And just a sidenote, at one time, this journal was public, but believe me, no one would ever want to read my ramblings now.
I knew just writing wouldn’t sustain me, because I wanted to write for a purpose. My freshman year roommate and I talked for hours, searching the Bureau of Labor Statistics website for careers with job growth and a sustainable income. We both decided the public relations and promotions fields were what we wanted to pursue. I switched to communications for a few weeks, but after learning that the more writing intensive classes and experience would be found in the journalism department, I promptly switched again.
And after taking Basic Skills with Dr. Randy Jesick, I was hooked. Call me crazy, but I love grammar and diagramming sentences is something that I enjoy.
After taking all the journalism and PR classes that my schedule would allow each semester, I was enjoying school. I enjoyed my classes and was excited about the future. That’s when things took a turn. The spring semester of my sophomore year started as any other, taking a few business classes for my minor, journalism classes and liberal studies. Spring break was when things started to feel strange. I had a great week with my family but life didn’t feel the same.
The Monday I got back to school after spring break, I called home for some advice from my mom. She didn’t answer, which wasn’t a completely unusual thing, but something didn’t feel right. I called again, and still no response. I left it be for a little bit and grabbed some Starbucks. Then she called back and the first thing she said to me was “Are you with your friends?” I said no, and she said, “Well as soon as I tell you this, please go be with them.” Rachel, my sister a year younger than me, had collapsed at school. She had stopped breathing and was rushed to the ER.
The details of these next few weeks are very hazy because my life was turned upside down. Rachel had had many health problems in the past because of her Hurlers Syndrome, a genetic disease she had been struggling with her whole life, but she always overcame. She always came out on top. God had always provided, but this time was different. It felt different. She was transferred down to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she spent her final week.
That last week was full of trips to and fro IUP, with a lot of uncertainty. I had Dr. Jesick and Dr. Michele Papakie at this point and although I didn’t know when I was coming back, I kept them updated on what was happening so that when I came back, I could finish up without missing everything. I actually had a business class at that point that I ended up having to drop because of unwillingness from the professor to help me out in my absences, which was extremely frustrating, but I digress.
On March 30, 2015, Rachel passed away. Her heart stopped beating and her 18-year life had ended. It was devastating, obviously. I took the next week off, and headed back to school, knowing I had to finish strong so I didn’t waste the semester.
Let me tell you, those last few weeks were a disaster. I tried to keep a brave face knowing that she was happy up in Heaven with Jesus, but it was so hard. I cried so much and begged God that the summer would come quickly and I would get to return home with my family.
But, in the midst of my grief, I finished the semester with all A’s. I made up the work with lots of help from my wonderful professors, and Michele, let me tell you, you checking in on me almost every day during our class was one of the most memorable things from those last few weeks. You really cared about how I was doing and when I cried after or before classes sometimes, you always hugged me and gave me great advice and comfort.
Because of that, my life hasn’t been easy. It was hard to leave my room sometimes or get the motivation to go to class, but I pushed through. With God, I made it. With the support from my family, I made it. With the constant motivation and unconditional love from my boyfriend, CJ, I made it. With the long nights in the library and study rooms with my friends, especially Drey, I made it. With my determination and passion to succeed, I made it.
I don’t know where God will lead me in the future, and I don’t know where he’ll lead all of you, but I know that with the education we’ve received here, the friends and experiences we’ve had here, we will go far.
And now, I’ll leave you with the verse I had tattooed on my foot. A verse that has provided me so much comfort in the midst of my hardships and struggles.
John 16:33: 'I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.'