When I was 17, Orlando was a place I dreamed of living in. I saw it as a sanctuary, as a place I could finally spread my wings and find who I am. Upon receiving my acceptance letter to UCF, I grabbed my envelope from the mailbox, ran into my bedroom and cried. I held it in a tight embrace, hunched over on my knees on my carpeted floor and sobbed. I felt like my life was coming together and I could see a brighter future outside of my parents' home, outside of New Jersey, outside of everything familiar.

Since I was 16, I helped take care of my mom when she was diagnosed with heart disease. After her surgery, I helped her change her clothes. I helped bathe her. I helped feed her and take her medication. I helped her go on walks and I helped her begin to see a brighter future again. For two years, I tried to help her so much I sometimes forgot to help myself.

The thought of moving to Orlando was scary because it meant I could no longer physically be there to help my mom. But I knew that if I stayed close to home, I would never develop into the woman and worker I wanted to be. I had to take my life into my own hands, even if it meant leaving the people I loved most in this world.

When I moved to Orlando, I was homesick, guilty and lonely. But over time, it became everything I needed it to be. The city reminded me of why I left home. It reminded me of who I wanted to be and it helped me regain a new sense of vision. Orlando became my safe haven filled with concerts, coffee shops, late-night sleepovers, and higher education. I made friendships, met my boyfriend, and lost friendships I thought I would have forever too.

I've laughed in this city, I've cried in this city, but above all else, I put my dreams into action in this city. I've been given the tools for becoming my better self and I've used this city for everything I needed it to be.

I'm ending my time at UCF and I'm also ending my time in Orlando. It's given me memories I will cherish forever, life lessons I will always remember, and new dreams to fight for now. Orlando was everything I needed it to be, and although it will remain in my heart, it's time for me to move on. I'm not completely certain where my future will lead, but I'm slowing pathing a new path for myself.

The City Beautiful was my stepping stone into adulthood, and for that, I am thankful for the person it allowed me to be. It's not perfect. The traffic is awful, the construction never ends and it's beyond easy to get lost, but it's been my home for over 3 years and I wouldn't be who I am without it.