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  • Writer's pictureSydnie Mares

What I Really Learned In College

I embarked on my college journey with a real plan. I’m pretty sure that I wrote in my college application essays that I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was passionate about film, and confident that the University of Texas’s Radio-Television-Film program, ranked one of the best in the country, was going to help me achieve my dreams.

Everything in my gut told me that getting a film degree from UT was the plan for my life. I created spreadsheets that outlined every class I would need to take each semester to graduate, possibly even a semester early. I’m a planner, and I love it when a plan comes together.

But none of that really mattered.

In April of my second school year, after having vision issues, incoherent speech, and small seizures, my father was suddenly diagnosed with a tumor on his brain stem. It was inoperable, and the doctors hypothesized that he would have six months to a year to live.

I moved back to Houston. I left behind my friends and my opportunities. I left behind the prestigious film program.

Pedro and I were already engaged at the time. On July 1st we booked a wedding venue. On July 31st we were married. Somewhere in between we adopted a puppy. We laughed because people kept eyeing my stomach, waiting for a baby to pop out.

We just loved each other a lot, life was too short, and I wanted my dad to walk me down the aisle.

"When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

—my wedding vows, and also When Harry Met Sally

In the fall, I started attending the University of Houston, taking online and evening classes to care for my dad full time during the day. Two years after moving to Houston, my dad’s MRI results are clear. He is now just battling disabilities due to brain damage, but he’s doing well.

This month, I graduated from college. And while the stuff I learned in school was nice, the most important lesson I learned was about life.

I lost that gut feeling that I used to have in my stomach that affirmed that I knew the plan for the next twenty years, or even the next twelve months. I’m not that confident in the future, knowing everything can change in the blink of an eye.

But the thing is, even if we don’t know the plan, we can still know some things.

We can know the love of our family and friends.

We can know who we are. Not just what our dream job is, but who we really are. What we know is right or wrong, how we treat others, our capacity for empathy. If you're lucky, you'll know what your talents are.

We can know that there is hope. There are moments where it doesn’t feel like there is any, but there will also be moments where hope will sneak up on you.

These are all the tools that can help us get through what life throws at us.

My dream isn’t to have a particular job in a particular city anymore. My dream is to love and be loved, to spend time with my family and friends, and to use my skills and knowledge in ways that will help people. This is what I learned in college.

I want to say thank you to some of the people who have helped me get this degree.

My parents. My mother who has helped me to be confident, creative, and who taught me to read. My father who has always loved me and been so proud of me.

My grandparents. My grandmother who helped me fill out scholarship applications and to answer all of my financial aid questions. I wouldn’t have made it to college without you keeping tabs on all of the deadlines for me. And my grandfather who shows his love through silliness and helpfulness.

My aunts and uncles. You have all made me smile, supported me, and listened to me when I just needed to talk.

My siblings. We argue and roast each other, but we will always be a team. I tend to think that because I am the oldest, it is my job to care of you guys, but you have all been there for me in so many ways.

My friends. Kassandra, Madeline, and Kriti. I met you all in that order. You’ve understood me and made my life brighter. That means so much.

Pedro. I feel like this diploma is dedicated to you. You have worked to provide for us, putting your own plans on hold. You’ve cooked and cleaned for me when I was too exhausted (or sad) to get up and take care of myself. You’re my best friend, and I could not have made it this far without you.

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