In 11 days I will graduate from UNC Chapel Hill with Highest Honors in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. I would like to say every second of my time here in Chapel Hill was flawless. That my four years of college were undoubtedly the best of my life. I would be lying.
Carolina gave me the opportunity to prove my abilities academically. Carolina always recognized my achievements. Carolina gave me the opportunity to network with impressive alumni worldwide. But I think the biggest lesson that Carolina taught me was how to find happiness in a place where I didn’t fully belong.
It’s depressing to say that joining a sorority my freshman year was a mistake; it’s hard to say it wasn’t. All I know is that if I hadn’t have joined the sorority, I wouldn’t have been pushed to the point that I needed an escape. I wouldn’t have woken up every single morning of my sophomore year wondering why I was living a life that wasn’t mine. I wouldn’t have finally chosen to leave that life by dropping greek life and filling out an application to study abroad. I wouldn’t have moved to Italy, met the most outstanding friends, and fallen in love with myself all over again.
I don’t believe in the ‘things happen for a reason’ speech. But I do believe that when bad things happen, you are left with a choice: make it better or don’t. Carolina and all the mismatches that came with it taught me to how make my situation better. It forced me to soul-search and find that which brings me true happiness: happiness without attachment; happiness on my own. Only through that soul searching and the inner happiness I discovered, was I able to start fresh. So even when I remained surrounded by old friends I could no longer connect with, I recognized my true happiness and in time, strangers began to see it too.
By learning what I loved about myself I learned what I loved about others. I was suddenly able to choose company that I could identify with on much deeper levels. Gradually, my surroundings did not seem so foreign. Gradually, I saw Carolina as a gorgeous place full of hope and opportunity. Gradually, I made friends that I truly admired, respected and learned from… and let go of my resentment for those different than me. That was the most important lesson of all: to release judgement from those unlike you. Even when you’ve found the things that make you happy, even when you are fully self aware (if that is ever possible), I believe you can’t achieve pure happiness until you let go of judgement for others.
So for me, Carolina was four years of trial and error. From finding the right crowd to finding the right major to finding myself – I know that having gone to Carolina, I am entering the next phase of life as a much more intelligent, open-minded, self-aware and self-confident woman than the girl at freshman orientation. Thank you for the challenge, UNC!