The Best is Yet to Come

Today was my grad school commencement ceremony from Drexel. I’m someone who is super into graduations. Just ask my colleague Claire, who was astounded at how much I knew about everything from the music to the regalia to why hoods have different colors to how schools calculate honors, etc., while we were at Moore’s ceremony a month ago. I’ve mentioned before that I can be a bit obsessive when I like things, but with commencements, part of it is that I really love the pageantry of it all. When I was in middle school, I would love seeing all of the high school seniors in their caps and gowns. I loved sitting with the band playing “Pomp and Cirumstance” and singing the alma mater with the choir. I wished endlessly that the six years I was at Gateway could go by as soon as possible so that I could wear the regalia and be the graduate, finally.

(And HUGE disclaimer, six years after the fact: the blue National Honor Society stole was a huge reason I ran for treasurer that year – bad reason to run, but it was my favorite color and literally no one else ran for the position, so…sorry to any of my fellow classmates in NHS who actually wanted it.)

Throwback to 2013 with my Aunt JoAnne and a jubilant Natalie wearing the blue NHS stole

I decorated my cap, too, because thinking about it gets me excited (and I’m pretty sure crafting is a great coping skill – I’m an arts administrator, right?) I’ll admit, I did somewhat model this after someone else’s graduation cap from a few years ago that I saw recently and really liked. It’s not necessarily the most original or creative, but I think it represents me as I am today well enough. Plus it gave me some extra skills with a hot glue gun, so score. I technically graduated in December of 2018 (so ignore the 2019 on the cap) but otherwise I’m very pleased with how it turned out, especially amidst months of indecisiveness.

Indecisiveness is another big word in my vocabulary. Take me to a restaurant and you will definitely learn that I am one of the most indecisive of people. The same applies to grad school. Arriving at this day wasn’t something I necessarily planned on. If you had talked to me two and a half years ago, I would have told you I’d be in Yankees Stadium in May of 2019 graduating with an M.A. in Performing Arts Administration from NYU. It was hard deciding to let that dream go and go to Drexel instead, especially with what I had been through approximately four years prior with my undergrad experience. But as I look back on that decision now, a little over two years after I made it, I couldn’t have been happier I did so.

But before I tell that story, there’s another that needs to be told about the journey I’ve been on since 2013. My first choice school for undergrad was Fairleigh Dickinson University. I couldn’t have been more excited. I was going to a school where my longtime high school idol had gone, majoring in theatre, in close proximity to New York City, enrolled in a program where I would be required to study abroad in England at Wroxton College for a semester, and where I had been accepted into the honors program. Going to that orientation in July was like I never imagined. I was so excited. But with excitement comes disappointment, in particular with a funding gap I didn’t think would happen, and that dream went away. Coming to terms with it was hard. I hated that I felt ungrateful. I was so privileged to have even being given a glimpse into that opportunity, when there were so many others that didn’t have the things/opportunities I had. I know there were a few friends of mine that also felt a sense of disillusionment when they went to community college. Why was I being, as I called myself, such an elitist? Why did I think I was better than everyone else, thinking I was entitled in some way to have that experience? On the other hand, why couldn’t I have the four year college experience the majority of my close friends were going to get? Why was I the odd person out? They’re questions I still struggle with to this day, and it’s still hard.

Now, looking back on my higher education experiences almost six years after the initial dissapointment, I’m glad it was the road I took. I’m thankful for the struggle. It made me resilient in a way I didn’t think was possible. It changed how I viewed my future in a way I honestly didn’t think would ever happen. I ended up graduating from Rowan, a school I have come to cherish much more than I possibly thought I could. I graduated with a long time elementary school friend, was granted an eternal English buddy, and learned from some of the most insightful professors. My own experience is why I’m so grateful to be working in fundraising at an arts college. My work, within the context of my own higher education journey, gives me a huge sense of fulfillment. To know that I’m working to ensure that funding gap doesn’t happen for another student who wants to attend their dream college – it’s incredible.

2017 – same people, unexpected journey

And with that, I’m so, so grateful to have gone to Drexel. NYU was my dream, like I said. Living in New York, studying performing arts management, wearing a purple graduation gown – I can’t even tell you about how obsessed with that dream I was. If there was something I gained from my FDU disappointment, though, it was the reality that I was paying for college and that NYU would cost a lot (let me say again- a lot). Working in the nonprofit arts sector, the pay wouldn’t necessarily correlate to the debt load, and the INFP in me became a realist.

So I chose Drexel. And it was everything I hoped for. The people I was surrounded by during my grad school experience were nothing short of inspiring. They were full of passion for the arts, and they brought perspectives I had never considered. I studied with people from all around the country and the world. My instructors shared insights about the field that amazed me and prepared me to ask the questions that need asking. The entire Arts Advocacy Day network inspired me to be a champion for the arts, helping me feel 99% empowered and only 1% nervous when I spoke about the NEA’s impact on lower-income Philadelphia communities to Bob Casey’s staff. The group of friends I’ve gained have been more than I could have hoped for, listening to me rant about my own life stressors while I almost religiously ate Chipotle for dinner and taking me out for my 23rd birthday after class.

I’m thankful for the lessons I learned about myself most of all, though. I learned that I was capable of conducting primary research and writing a thesis. I learned how my anxiety could get the absolute better of me, in a way I never would have thought imaginable. I learned how to take a break, albeit a short one, and how to ask instructors, colleagues, friends, and whatnot for advice/help. My passion for law and for helping others has grown, and has led me to believe that in four years I might be wearing another cap and gown.

Me and my bud Mario!

My life has always been a bit of an enigma to me. There are many times, and maybe even most situations in my life, where something that I want to happen doesn’t happen and I become really disappointed, or where I feel as though something that was once promised to me fades away with no rationale attached as to why. It’s hard for me to make sense of it most of the time, in all honesty. What I think I can definitely conclude, though, is that there always seems to be something even more amazing right around the corner, even amidst that initial disappointment. I never would have imagined how much of a rewarding experience going to Drexel would be, or how the journey I’ve been on these past six years would shape me into who I am at this very moment.

It’s a reminder that even though this chapter, as turbulent as it has been, has closed, the best is yet to come. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me through it all and for reminding me of that sentiment.

A Story of Hope

I’ve been writing some non-Gratitude Project posts lately, which both confuses and fulfills me. I don’t want to continue the project, for reasons I’ve stated before, but I do want to continue to write. So how do we resolve that conundrum? Well, I don’t know what the best answer to that question is. But what I do know is that writing helps me feel a sense of purpose, even if no one is around to read what I’ve been writing. Sometimes I leave a post feeling more confused about it. Sometimes I leave one feeling angry. But I can tell you how I always feel when I start to write a post, or when I start to write anything for that matter: hope.

Hope is a pretty significant word in my vocabulary. I think a lot of people would consider me a relatively hopeful person and as someone who usually is able to inspire hope in others (or at least I hope so). Today in particular, I’ve come to realize how prophetic the word has been for me, and how truly important it is to my unique self.

As such, I want to give you a few vignettes that explain how the word “hope” itself has played a crucial role in my life, more specifically in my adult life. I have to rewind all the way back to ten years ago in order to detail it for you, so I hope the bolded “2009” below doesn’t give you any anxiety about the almost-over decade of the 2010s or uncomfortable flashbacks of Michael Jackson’s nationally televised funeral.

2009

There’s a song that not a lot of people know about. I only came across it in 2009 when I was a fourteen year old high school freshman doing my weekly Glee-stalking. When Idina came on the show to play Jonathan Groff’s glee club coach and Lea Michele’s biological mother, my own self-constructed rabbit hole led me to a piece of music I would come to adore to this day. It was a song called “Hope”, written for the at-the-time extremely popular “Stand up to Cancer” campaign in partnership with the MLB. Proceeds from purchases of the song went toward the initiative to fund cancer research. If you haven’t heard it, then please do yourself a favor and take a moment to listen (link provided here).

Image result for idina menzel hope song

I wrote about this song in my freshman year fall semester Music Appreciation class in college for an assignment in which we had to analyze a piece of music we loved. There were a ton of songs I could have chosen. I could have written about a song written in 3/4, like “The Hill” from Once, or one that fused the orchestral sound with rock, like Muse’s renowned “Exogensis”. But I wrote about this one. I chose this song because I needed a lot of hope then. It was a time when I felt defeated, forgotten, and disappointed by all that I thought was promised to me. This song was a big reason why I was able to lift myself out of that and accept my path, and it only felt right for my first assignment ever in college to be centered on this exact one.

I’m listening to this song right now, hoping it gives me much needed inspiration to write the rest of this post.

February 2019

Approximately ten years after being introduced to the song, I was introduced to what may have been the most appropriate show for me to be introduced to: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It was a fictional show, but one that made me feel less alone in my experiences. There’s a scene in season 3 that really stuck with me, and it’s when Rebecca is on the airplane going back to LA after a visit with her mother on the East Coast went completely haywire. I won’t divulge the specifics of that scene for anyone that has yet to watch it. But I will share a picture I found on Google Images that depicts what I am trying to convey:

Image result for Airplane Crazy Ex Girlfriend

There, there at the very bottom of the picture is that word “hope” again. But before that is the word “help”, a word that I hardly ever used before. Others would use it around me, so freely even, but for me it just didn’t feel right. It’s why I never went to office hours during undergrad and part of why I didn’t ask for it when I was auditioning for college theatre programs during my senior year of high school. It felt as though if I said the word “help”, that I was asking for too much. This moment in the show though encouraged me to ask for that help. I’ve been getting that help for about three-ish months now. I’m not cured. I don’t know if I will be anytime soon, especially given the fact I haven’t told my therapist the full truth of what I did. But I know that there’s hope things might one day be different.

I’m someone who, at my core, believes in redemption. It’s one of the things I love about Christianity. It’s why I love Snape’s character arc in Harry Potter. It’s why I rooted for Rebecca Bunch throughout the course of her show’s run. I think that, if I’ve had faith in so many other people in my life, I surely deserve to give it right back to myself.

June 1, 2019

Hope Word Bracelet

Four months later, I’m watching one of my YouTubers’ “Day in the Life” vlogs and have become fascinated by a piece of jewelry she highlights in the video. She doesn’t mention the name of the store from which she bought it nor the maker. Regardless, I utilize my Google search talents, complete with my refined Boolean search techniques I picked up in grad school, and find it: Sashka Co., a store which sells glass beaded bracelets made by artists in Nepal and which donates ten percent of their entire proceeds to charities around the world.

I bought the same bracelet my vlogger had- no, not because I was trying to copy someone yet again this time (though Diana is in fact amazing), but because what she showed was simply gorgeous and I thought it would be a nice addition to the white dress I am wearing to my Drexel commencement in a little under two weeks. I perused the website some more and found they sell charms with words to go along with it. I look through the collection and the very first one says “Hope”. I buy that, too.

Seeing the word sparked something in me. It made me want to forgive myself and try to move on. I can’t tell you that I’ll be doing either of those things in the near future, but I can tell you that I hope I can. There’s no excusing or negating any wrongdoing or misbehavior. But there is hope that things will work out in the end. There’s hope that things will change as they should. Hope that the sick will be healed. Hope that those who desire it will find their fulfillment. Hope that there’s a purpose to this blog and to this story. Hope that I can grow from my experiences. And more specifically, there’s hope that I can use everything that I’ve learned to transform into the person I know I’m capable of being.

Tonight I was reminded of another piece of art I studied in college that talks about hope and, like Idina’s song, characterizes hope as a bird:

Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
” – Emily Dickinson

I’m unsure of the species of bird that personifies hope. The obvious might be the phoenix, the one that rises from the ashes. It could be like the eagle that has come to represent American hope. But it could also be a mockingbird, one of the most annoying of the entire species that many seem to hate, with their persistence and their noisiness.

Let me say, I’m probably the mockingbird in this situation. What I love about the arts and about poetry is that there are multiple interpretations and point of views to consider (which is part of why I can see the double entendre in Harper Lee’s title, whether it be intended or not). And that’s why I think any one of those birds is a perfect substitute for the “bird” Emily writes and Idina sings about. And even if I am the mockingbird, there’s hope for me, too. There’s hope for anyone that wants hope. For hope can be heard in the darkest, loneliest, and strangest of places, never once giving up the song it sings so beautifully.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness” – Desmond Tutu