Four years, eight semesters, countless memories for this one moment.
Hearing my name called amongst the hundreds of students graduating was surreal. I’ve dreamt of this moment my entire life. It truly was magical. Caps decorated thanking mom and dad for helping them get here, students wearing hundreds of cords proudly showing their triumphs. I sat there surrounded by my peers who were going off to accomplish their dreams. By my side was a friend who was going to start medical school and another going off to pursue their dream of comedy, and I felt at peace. I knew everything would be alright. But this wasn’t the case this time a year ago.
As excited as I was to be the first in my family to graduate with a college degree, I was still overwhelmed with the pressure of not messing up. I was supposed to be the one who went off and did something amazing. “Grad school, fixing the world, helping others.” These were the plans I told everyone, the picture I painted. But none of this felt right. I had been struggling with making the right decision. After three years of planning, I thought I would walk into senior year knowing everything I wanted. I had placed myself right where I wanted to be. Or so I thought. I found myself unhappy. I found myself doubting everything I had done. It’s scary making these life changing decisions when you’re only twenty-one. I found myself in dark times with crippling fear for the future. I was plagued with self doubt.
Towards the end of my last fall semester I decided I was not going to go to grad school and I was going to take some time for myself. This was after I realized how much I was not taking care of myself. As Rupaul always says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else?” If I wanted to help others, I had to help myself. As scary as this decision was, I knew it was the right one. With no plan, no place to live, and no job lined up, I was terrified of graduation. But knowing that my “job” for the year was to work on myself was an accomplishment in itself. And as I spoke to more people about it, I received a lot of support and understanding. On May 1st, I sat there confident in my decision even if it wasn’t the most traditional route.
So this is me, just wanting to reassure you that everything will be okay. And as cheesy as that sounds, it all will be. Finding what truly worked best for me was the best thing I could have done for myself. Taking time to reflect on what happened and how I was feeling made all the difference. So no, I am not going off to start some amazing graduate school in the fall. And no, I do not have some super cool full-time job that pays me millions, but what I do have is a better sense of self. I have loving people surrounding me, and a new found confidence in myself and all of the parts of me that I was ignoring. I know not everyone has the same experience and we are all in different situations, but I challenge you to find what works best for you and not to just do “what you’re supposed to do.” You have the rest of your life ahead of you, don’t rush it. I am only twenty-two, and I want to enjoy this while I can. I want to live and I want to learn. So now more than a month after graduation, I can say it’s not as scary as I thought it was going to be and I am excited for what is to come.
-Jose Jacob Arce
Stronger Than Stigma, Inc.