Tears of Gratitude

Tears of Gratitude

I was not a stellar student in high school; I had a GPA of 2.27. Looking over my transcript to apply for college, I couldn’t help but get hung up on that number. Four years of my life, four years of laughter and tears, summed up in a number. Even more than that, my entire school career all added up to a single 1 digit, 2 decimal number. Everything I accomplished added up to 2.27. I always thought that was all I could do; I’d tried so hard and struggled to barely scrape by all through school. It wasn’t that I was even a troublemaker. As far as I know, none of my teachers ever had an issue with me; I just couldn’t make the grade. I accomplished the bare minimum: I graduated, and for a long time I thought I was lucky to even get that much. In my mind, all I would ever be able to manage was a 2.27.

You guys know my story by now. I had a lot holding me back in high school, internally and externally. I keep thinking of a story I read somewhere about baby elephants being trained for the circus: they have a strong rope tied around their necks, and when they realize they aren’t strong enough to break it, they stop trying. Then even when they’re grown, all it takes is a loose rope around their neck to control them, because they still think they can’t break free. As my yearning to go back to school grew stronger, I started to wonder if I was like those baby elephants. I’d been held back for so long, I didn’t know what I was really capable of. If I cut the rope, what could I really do?

Turns out, I think it’s a lot more than a 2.27. My English class has been working on an essay that we just got back recently, and I wanted to cry when I saw my grade: 100. “Lovely work here, Jennifer,” my professor’s note read. For the past week, I’d been hoping for a passing grade at best; I definitely didn’t think I was worthy of a perfect score. Later on, we had our midterm in my Fashion class, and for the second time that day, I saw a perfect score when we got our tests back. It’s only midterm, but I have high hopes for myself through the semester.

Last week, another professor warned, “Some of you are not doing well in this class.” Out of instinct and habit, I looked down at my desk in shame. It took me a minute to realize that for once, such a statement was not directed at me. I’m not struggling to keep up like I used to. For once, I actually feel like I’m on top of things, and that notion is incredibly empowering. I’ve got this.

I’m not saying all this to brag. I don’t want to strut around like a peacock, waving my scores around, saying, “Look how smart I am!” On the contrary: I’ve never thought I was all that intelligent or capable. I spent years thinking I was dumb, that I couldn’t accomplish anything, and my grades in high school reflected that. I trained myself to think I was a nuisance, to apologize for my existence (I should have an “I’m sorry” jar: put a dollar in every time I apologize for something I didn’t do), and to just generally be ashamed of myself. I’m only now realizing that when left to my own devices, without anything holding me back, I can actually accomplish something. I am more than what I used to believe

I am so in love with college life right now. It feel so good to be in a learning environment again, without all the bs of high school. Everything feels so much more alive; it feels like an actual learning environment, where my peers are excited to talk about their goals, rather than just teenagers grumbling “two more years, and we’re out of this hell…” It’s like the campus is its own little community. My first couple weeks, I was content to just sit outside between classes and watch people go by. It’s really fascinating to see the diversity; girls wearing Hijab walk past students speaking in sign, followed by a punk in leather and patches skateboarding past the “no skateboards on campus” notice. There’s people of all different types, and it feels so good to see an environment where people are allowed, even encouraged, to discover and be who they are.

I want to backtrack a little bit, and go on a brief tangent about the weeks before I started school. I needed to buy all new supplies; it’s been 7 years since I was in school after all, and I had nothing leftover from back then. Shopping for my backpack was first: I scoured the internet for days, looking for something that spoke to me. Then I found a beautiful, black and red Castlevania backpack from Gamestop. I wanted it so badly, and the minute I saw it, I could imagine happily trotting to class every day proudly displaying my fandom. Still, I hesitated.

When I was in middle school, I had a High School Musical backpack that I loved more than anything in the world. I used it for about two days, before my classmates mocked me so badly for it that I never wanted to see it again. That shame followed me the rest of my school career; I wanted pretty school things, but I didn’t want to risk bringing more ridicule upon myself. From then until senior year, I carried either a plain bag or a large purse.

I wanted that Castlevania backpack so badly, though. Anxious, I pulled up my friends’ group chat. “Guys?” I asked, briefly explaining my dilemma. “Do people in college make fun of backpacks?” Somewhere in the back of my mind, middle-school me was still there, telling me I’d be shunned for showing personality.

The response I got from my friends was a unanimous “GET THE BACKPACK!” That in itself really kickstarted my excitement for the beginning of the semester. I felt like my cat after I fed her a piece of jerky and she decided it was the greatest thing in the world; all at once, I realized that I could have whatever I wanted for school. I got myself fruit scented highlighters, metallic gel pens, a mini stapler with pink staples, and a white out container shaped like a mummy. I don’t think I’d been that excited since I bought my car.

The biggest revelation, which was met with a bit of confusion from my group: mechanical pencils. At 24 years old, I tried not to tear up and bought my first set of mechanical pencils (which were arbitrarily forbidden during my childhood). As I gleefully trotted through the back to school section at Target, arms full of binders and notebooks, I remember passing by a couple moms groaning about how it’s “that time of the year again.” For me, however, school shopping wasn’t a dreaded chore or mundane cycle; it was an exciting adventure, one that I could finally embark on in my own style. At last, I was the one who could call the shots.

A big part of what has made going back to school special for me is the people around me. I’m fortunate to have one of my best friends to guide me; I would truly be lost without her by my side, and I’m grateful for her every day. In addition, I’ve been welcomed by so many new people that I feel overwhelmed. A friend from one of my classes made cake pops and brought them to school the week of my birthday; it took all my willpower not to sob until after I got home. I made friends with the tabletop gaming club largely by chance, and found that college friendships are started exactly like kindergarten: through the comparison of cool stickers and an exchange of Teddy grahams and Oreos. Even after spending fourteen hours straight on campus (no, I’m not exaggerating), I feel satisfied walking to my car with my “parking lot squad” after my evening class. I haven’t known most of these people for longer than a few weeks, but I am so thankful they’re in my life now. In a way, I feel that my college friends are becoming like another fandom family (Can college be considered a fandom?).

In case you missed the title, a large part of this article is about how my college experience has already moved me to tears on more than one occasion. I’ve cried a lot in my life, and the last 6 years especially. All those times, I cried out of grief and frustration. I broke down because I didn’t know what else to do, and I felt everything crumbling around me. I shed tears of sadness, tears in anger, and tears of hurt. At times, it seemed that there would be know end to the relentless waves of pain. I’m still crying. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few tears as I wrote this. But now, it’s for a much different reason: these are tears of gratitude. I’m grateful for the support of those who helped me get to where I am. I’m moved by the compassion shown to me by those I’ve just met. Above all, I’m thankful every day for the opportunities presented to me, and I’m determined not to take any of it for granted. I know how much it took for me to get here, and being in school again has filled my life with purpose. I’m taking baby steps toward my goal, and though I’ve got a long way to go, I won’t stop showing my gratitude for every step I’m able to take. I love what I’m doing. After everything that’s happened, I’m truly happy.

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