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What Is My Name Doing On My Diploma? A Message To Recent Graduates

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As I spend my last few days on campus–a campus that has been my home for the past four years–naturally, I have become overwhelmed with thoughts. Sometimes lighthearted, my thoughts consist of questions such as, “Which one of my roommates will be the first to get married?” Other times, they are much more serious: “Will ‘Girl Meets World’ actually be any good?” While part of me wants to look ahead at my optimistic future and toast the refreshing change, the other part begs me to stop in my tracks and reflect on the invigorating journey that is now coming to an end. The other part wants to bask in the memories of late nights, sidesplitting laughter, and all the relationships I formed–some may come to an end, but others may only just be blossoming. The other part of me wants to maintain the same eager smile that’s been on my face ever since freshmen year. The other part of me is not quite ready to grow up. Yet, while I tried to delay the travel plans home and the tearful goodbyes as long as I could, time had ideas of its own. It was the first day of senior year. Then it was spring break. Soon enough, we traded in our backpacks for caps and gowns.

I received an email about a week before my graduation ceremony asking me to confirm a few general statements about myself. It was nothing out of the ordinary. I filled out my home address with no hesitation and provided my cell phone number without question, but something tripped me up as I continued to the next question. The next line asked me to confirm my name exactly as I wanted it displayed on my diploma. To many, this would not appear to be a hard question. In fact, this is probably the easiest question anyone has to answer in college. The most one should have to think about is whether or not to include a middle name or initial. However, there was something about it that gave me an uneasy feeling. It was almost a feeling of guilt. Was it because I did not fully pay for tuition by myself? Was it because I was contemplating transferring schools until a group of good friends convinced me to stay? Perhaps it was because most of my best memories are not related to me at all, but rather what I remember others doing for me. No matter which reason, I did not feel my name should be on that diploma by itself. I still don’t.

While I am proud of what I have accomplished during my time at Indiana University, and while I know that I have learned valuable lessons that will provide me with success in the future, I cannot take sole credit for who I have become, for better or for worse. Sure, I may have been the one who sat in an uneven desk chair as I took my last final, but behind that test was a motivating professor who always kept his door open for me. It is true I developed passions and discovered new talents I never knew I had, but in the shadows stood a great group of friends and supportive parents who constantly allowed me to be myself. Yes, I may have emerged with a heightened sense of awareness for the world around me, along with a stronger willingness to learn, but I owe this to those who challenged my views along the way. It is easy to see that these virtues are attached to my name; it is harder to see that they are attached to stories, too.

All too many times, it is human nature to want to blame others for our faults and to take too much credit for our accomplishments. While I am no exception to this rule, I am constantly trying to improve. I graduated Saturday, May 10, 2014. Immediately following the ceremony, I, similar to many others, frantically darted around in my oversized gown to find my family. “I did it!” I yelled to my parents. “I graduated!” In retrospect, this was a lie. This was the biggest lie. I would go back and choose my words more carefully. I would hit rewind: “We did it. We graduated.”

You get out what you put in. I believe it is important to work hard, and I believe it is imperative to be proud of what you have achieved. It is also vital to remember how you got there. While this chapter of our lives is coming to a close, it is crucial to remember that this is not a chapter from a tedious textbook we read once for class before tucking it away forever, but rather a chapter in which we place a bookmark in and constantly reference as we look forward to the future. I am proud of what I have accomplished, just as I am thankful for what others have allowed me to accomplish, but my diploma is too big to only include one name.

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