I had a picture in my mind of graduation day. I could hear the cars honking as they crawled across campus, feel the tassel of my cap brushing my cheek as I walked to my seat, see my family waving from two hundred rows up in the football stadium. The joy was palpable for weeks, so close I could taste it. Four years of work rolled up into one little paper.
Graduation was all I expected. But more than that, it was something I didn’t expect. Even as I felt joy overflow at the completion of years of hard work, deep loss stirred in my spirit as the goodbyes started to roll in. For four years, this has been home — not just the place, but the people. Suddenly, life felt bittersweet in a way I’d never known.
I’m learning that bittersweet moments in life are the ones that really rock me. All sweet, & I live off of euphoria & laughter, knowing I’ll stumble across sweet memories in my camera roll for months to come. All bitter, & I brace myself for the hard days, accepting scars that are sure to stay long after the wound stops biting. But bittersweet? I’m not sure my heart knows how to handle it yet.
I’m learning not to label each fleeting feeling, filing it away in its neat little folder, because goodness knows I’ve learned feelings are messier than that — but not shoving feelings away, either, putting up walls & marching on unaffected. I’m learning that bittersweet moments are not meant to be analyzed or ignored, just lived in.
In the calm after graduation, I’m breathing deeper. I’m feeling the heaviness that comes from knowing my best friend no longer lives next door, from remembering football tailgates & living room concerts & nights of broken curfews to get snacks at Sheetz (sorry, Mom). These moments, & millions more, live in the past now. And that’s okay.
Because I also remember the convocation speakers who pushed me toward Jesus, not gently, but radically, plunging my faith into new depths that I knew I’d never recover from. I remember grabbing hold of grace & falling in love with the One who saved my soul. I remember the friendships formed over bonfires & hiking trips & in the back row of classrooms — & I remember those same friendships strengthening over coffee dates & couch crashing & church services. I remember classmates feeling more like friends. I remember friends feeling more like family. I remember realizing that the family I’d found would be with me for the rest of my life. And I remember the joy I found in relationships, both in my Jesus and with my people. In a very real way, these four years taught me how to love in a way I couldn’t even fathom before.
I have been profoundly marked by my four years at Liberty University. I’ve had dreams crushed & dreams realized, plans changed & re-changed & then changed again. I look at pictures of the eighteen year old who moved into a dorm in 2011 & hardly recognize her. Then I look in the mirror at the twenty-two year old standing here now & I’m grateful. I’m much more proud of the girl in the mirror than the girl in the picture. I’ve wrestled through a lot to become her, & I wouldn’t change a single day.
It took lots of bittersweet moments to get me here. And this is just the beginning. I hope I can learn to taste bitter & sweet, to celebrate the moments that they go hand in hand, & to be more proud of the girl in the mirror in four years than I am today.
Here’s to a lifetime of tasting the bittersweet, loving it, living in it, learning from it.