“It is rare indeed, when you are doing exactly what you want to do, with exactly the people you want to do it with, in exactly the place you want to be. In life, most people are happy when they get just one right, and two is like Heaven… And getting all three right could only happen in Chapel Hill.”
I graduated today. There were pictures and parties and my family was all around; I sat alongside my best friends in Kenan Stadium, filled with thousands of students and countless memories from football seasons past.
I looked around Kenan and all I could think about (or, all I wanted to think about) was the time that Giovani Bernard returned a punt 73 yards to score a touchdown and end our 5-year losing streak against NC State. No one knew what to do except scream and cheer as loud as humanly possible, because we couldn’t believe that with just 13 seconds left, UNC pulled through.
I thought about my last bible study just a few weeks ago, where we snuck into Kenan at night and my co-leader and I listened to all of our girls talk about what God had done in their lives throughout this past year.
I thought about the time my friends and I painted up for a football game my freshman year, and how we did it all again for our first night game in years this past October.
…and those were just memories from one place.
I could point out so many places on campus where, in one sense or another, I had a moment where I realized how blessed I was to be at UNC. Like when we upset Duke this past year at home, and the crowd was so loud that the players could feel the floor vibrating. We rushed the court, and then we rushed Franklin Street — and somewhere between yelling “Tar Heels” until I lost my voice and pushing my way through a beyond-crowded group of indescribably excited students, I realized that I would never forget this place.
Or the first time I ever walked into Cru (the campus ministry I’ve been apart of), and saw hundreds of college students showing up every week to grow in their faith. And with each passing year, we would send the seniors off to move on from this place and do great things… the sad part? They had to move on. And now, I’m expected to move on too.
Graduation sparked one of those moments inside of me where I suddenly wondered if I actually became everything I had wanted to be by this point in my life. I stood there in my cap and gown and realized that contrary to my normal tendencies, I had never really imagined this moment. The end goal had always been to get here — and after that, I didn’t really have a plan. And so here I am, at the end of a journey I’ve literally spent my whole life awaiting.
The simple answer is that I didn’t become everything I had originally wanted to be, but I have become everything I was meant to be. I thought that UNC would turn me into the perfect person — I thought that by the end of my time at such a great university, I could have everything and be everything, and that would be enough to sustain me. What I’ve actually learned is that even with the world at my feet, the past four years have taught me that this world won’t ever be enough for any of us. There will still be failure and disappointment and people who don’t see us for who we are, and contrary to my original belief, UNC didn’t change any of that for me. If anything, it amplified the reality of it. Being at UNC has made me stronger and more resilient; it has put on perfect display the importance of having something greater to believe in than myself. Contrary to what so many people would argue about UNC (and college life in general), life at this university showed me my need for God on so many levels.
If I had become what I wanted to be, I would be exhausted by now. I wouldn’t be able to handle the fact that there is an unknown future ahead of me, and I would constantly fall victim to the idea that my best days were behind me. I would be longing for predictability so that nothing would be uncomfortable. I would be working tirelessly to make all of my career aspirations come true as quickly as possible. Having patience wouldn’t be an option, and trusting anything besides myself would be too risky.
Thank God I didn’t become who I wanted to be.
I’m a long way from being everything I was meant to be, but I’m a lot closer than I was four years ago. I have been a Tar Heel practically since the day I was born, and because of that it is so tempting for me to say that UNC has changed me. I built a life here. I met new people and experienced new places; I met my best friends and I fell in love. I rose to challenges and I fell to heartbreaks, and all within the frame of Chapel Hill, I watched things come together and fall apart — and with each passing day, I grew up just a little bit more.
But if I’m being honest with myself, I know that UNC didn’t change me.
For those of us who get teary-eyed while singing the alma mater and have experienced moments as unforgettable as the ones I will remember from here, that statement stings a little. It’s a good thing, though. Because UNC can’t hold onto me forever, no matter how long I try to hold onto it. It leaves its mark on our lives by allowing us to walk in the footsteps of so many people before us, and then pushes us out so that our successors can do the same.
So maybe UNC didn’t change me, but God certainly has. He undoubtedly used UNC as a vessel to expose some of my deepest insecurities and greatest needs. He used this amazing place to bring people into my life that I will never forget — people that will be an integral part of my life for a long time after today.
He brought in people who became like family.
…and He even brought my actual family here.
God has used UNC and the people in it to show me so many things about myself. And that gives me hope, because I know that even when I’m forced to move on from the places and the people I love the most, God will never change.
Today was such a happy day for me, but it was also terrifying. I’m at the end of my own plans, and I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing next. I honestly don’t know how I’m supposed to leave this place. All I know is that God is in control long after graduation day. I praise God for UNC-Chapel Hill, but I praise Him even more because He is who He says He is, and He will carry me through long after this amazing school is forgotten.
Congratulations, Class of 2014. It has truly been an unforgettable experience.