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.

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