With my tassel turned and degree in hand, I have officially graduated with a Marketing degree from Bryant University. Seriously, where did all the time go? I can't help but reflect on my years spent at Bryant and be so incredibly thankful for all I've been given and worked for during my time there. These last five years have truly been an amazing journey that I'll never forget. It's crazy to think that I'm finally entering the real world and starting a brand new chapter of my life.
I can remember my very first tour of Bryant like it was yesterday. With snow on the ground and frigid temperatures, I went to campus in the dead of winter and was feeling quite apprehensive of the whole "college experience." Students were heading to class in suits and heels, professors were lecturing what seemed like foreign concepts at the time, and I was growing more anxious about graduating from high school. So many questions ran through my mind as I wondered if I physically had it in me to earn a college degree. With the intense workload that is given in most college courses, I was so afraid my occasional hospital stays and frequent illnesses were going to hold me back. Yet, despite my reservations, I knew this was exactly what I wanted and wasn't going to let my disease dictate my life. That being said, I decided to chase my dream.
Being confined to a wheelchair, the transition from high school to college was somewhat challenging for me on a personal level. For the first time in my life, I was entering a community where no one knew who I was. My friends had gone off to different schools, and I knew I was going to have to prove myself to everyone around me. More than anything, I was afraid I wasn't going to be accepted by my peers because of my disability. It sounds kind of crazy, but I've struggled with this issue my entire life. The first few months of college were tough, and I found myself crying to my mom about how lonely I was. Being a commuter didn't exactly help much, either. Looking back now, though, if I could have written a letter to my 18-year old self, I'd tell me those feelings of loneliness would quickly disappear with new and meaningful friendships on the horizon.
I ended up making friends. Lots of them. In fact, I met one of my best friends at Bryant. Most importantly, though, I thrived. I met extraordinary professors, studied hard, and did everything I could to receive the best education possible. From day one, I knew I was extremely blessed to have an opportunity like this because many people in my situation unfortunately do not. So, I made a promise to myself that I was going to make the most out of my time at Bryant.
This past year of college was a rollercoaster ride of many ups and downs; yet, it's been the best year I've ever had. I started off my fall semester extremely sick. My spirits were low, and I knew the only solution was to take my classes one day at a time, while reminding myself that giving up wasn't an option. This was my graduation year. I ended up going in for surgery in October, studied for my midterm exams from my ICU hospital bed to avoid falling behind, and persevered harder than ever. I finished out the semester with Dean's List, feeling stronger, healthier and ready to take on my final semester of college.
Everything about the past few months have been nothing but perfect, and I couldn't think of a better way to end my undergraduate career. I got to know more incredible people, received the Star Award from Bryant, met Arianna Huffington at the annual Women's Summit, and so much more. I'll never forget all of the amazing opportunities that Bryant has given me over the years, and the memories made will forever hold a special place in my heart.
My entire Bryant experience was pretty different than most college students, that I'm sure of. The highs were high and the lows were low, but I wouldn't think twice about changing the details. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me over the last five years that I'm ready to take on new experiences for the years to come. The girl who was once scared, confused, and afraid to take chances as a freshman is now leaving Bryant with the confidence in knowing she'll succeed if she just believes in herself. And that girl is me.
With my college years now behind me, I can't help but feel like I'm starting all over again with a brand new slate. Am I nervous about it? Absolutely. Up until this point, I've always had some kind of a plan which always involved attending school. And truthfully, not having a plan feels like I don't have a purpose which is slightly terrifying to me. For the first time in my life, I have no idea what's going to happen next.
Yet, through all of this uncertainty, there's something I need to keep reminding myself. For someone in a situation like mine, I've come so far in life. Eighteen years ago, my parents were afraid to send me off to kindergarten in fear of the dangers of illness due to the severity of my disease. Now, here I am, with a college diploma that proves all of the hard work I've put in over the years. I'm so glad my parents chose to send me to school and give me the best life they could. And although I have no idea what my future holds, I know that I'll always continue to strive for the best. This is the life I've been given, and I can promise you I'm going to make the most of it. Here's to new beginnings.
This post originally appeared on Alyssa's WordPress blog. To read more of her work, click here.