I ripped open the envelope that contained my college diploma this week, and I was surprised at what I felt when I held it in my hand. I felt old, obviously. And I felt so proud of myself, and I know everyone goes to college these days; however, I still couldn’t stop the smile that formed.

And then I spent the remainder of the night thinking about my freshman year and how I never thought I would survive.

I was thrilled when I got accepted into the University of Mississippi. I thought it would be different than high school, because in high school I felt like I was invisible. I was the reader. I was the teacher’s pet. I was every bad connotation for ‘good girl’. I loved Harry Potter and love stories and making good grades. But I always wanted to be invited to hang out with the ‘popular’ kids. I would pretend I didn’t care, but I wanted so badly to be cool and fun and to hang out with cute boys. I wanted to be noticed.

August 2010. I packed up my car and drove to Oxford, MS with my mom and a friend, and when I got there I was petrified. I had no idea how college worked. There was no manual for this; it was nothing like the movies. I had to share a bathroom with thirty other girls. I couldn’t do it. I thought I couldn’t do it. My bed was just so high off the ground.

My mom and I went to dinner the first night, and when our waiter asked what I wanted to drink I just fell apart. I told him my bed was too high, and he crouched down, told me not to cry, and explained how to lower it.

My mom said I could come home; she said I could wait to go to school. I didn’t have to leave her and my dad yet. However, I’ve always been so stubborn. I don’t quit unless it’s the last option, so I stayed. I cried all the time, and I drove six hours home every weekend. I had to shower with thirty other girls, with flip-flops on. It took everything I had left to make friends of my own.

And I did end up becoming ‘popular’. I was the ‘girl-who-didn’t-drink-but-hung-out-at-parties’. I was the DD. I was the girl who picked people up at 4:00 a.m. I was the ‘she’s-pretty-but-won’t-do-more-than-kiss’ girl.

I got what I never had in high school; I got invited. And I found the real friends too late. I sacrificed the real friends for the ‘cool’ friends. It took everything I had to not quit when I had to live on a couch for six months. It took everything I had to get dressed and face my ex-boyfriend around campus. To face my ex-friends who couldn’t even look me in the eye when they saw me. To remind myself that my ex broke up with me because of my mom and dad’s financial issues. To figure out that I only dated him because I was so, so lonely. Because my friends sucked. Because they broke up with me because of money issues. To go to Young Life and not talk, because I didn’t want anyone to know about me not being able to pay for my apartment. To not cry every time Teri hugged me after we prayed. To not tell my new friends my secrets. To not cry when they didn’t care about my past and loved me anyway, and to not cry when they took my side and told me they would never let anything bad happen to me again.

And I tell people the chain of events in my life is the best chain of events, because had I had a car my junior year then I would have been able to tutor and pay for my apartment. And I would have continued hating my friends for being snotty. I wouldn’t have been brave enough to move away from them on my own. I would have never gone to Young Life. I would have never met Teri or Alison or Caitlin or Shelby. I would have never met Taylor. I would have never known how loved I am. I would have kept hanging around materialistic people. If my mom and dad hadn’t gone through financial issues at the time, they wouldn’t have moved to Virginia. I wouldn’t have met John. No one would have ever called me ‘Bertie’.

And life is so hard. It’s even harder when you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Life is so much better when you just realize that you love writing love stories and when you realize that you love having friends to watch bad movies with more than you like picking up drunk friends and when you find a boy who will wait for marriage instead of trying to force you to do things you don’t want to do.

And all the things I never thought I would get through are in the past. They are written down in a journal to remind me that I can get through the days that suck. It’s amazing what we can do when we wake up each day and go to sleep each night. And the days kept going; the world didn’t pause for me nor should it have. And thank God, because I wouldn’t love such a wonderful group of girls in Oxford, MS today if it had. I wouldn’t be able to handle bad news or get over lost friendships. I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today, and that’s worth all the bad.

“I promise I shall never give up, and that I’ll die yelling and laughing.”

Jack Kerouc

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