Four years ago, I stepped onto the grounds of Texas A&M International University with a fresh set of notebooks in my backpack, a shiny new student ID card (complete with an awkward photo), and a brave little heart.
Having been an honor roll student in high school, I was sure that would be easier than passing the TAKS exam. Maybe my workload would increase a bit but in previous years, writing essays and reading ahead came second nature to me, so I was sure I would be on the dean’s list in no time. I had major plans for the next four years, like being involved in as many campus organizations and activities as possible, while also completing internships that spiced up my résumé. I was going to take my driving exam and get my own car. Oh, and there had to be room for a college sweetheart somewhere in there. I was going to conquer this new territory, I just knew it!
…I cried on the second day. Things didn’t get easier during the next four years. I had to take a year of remedial math. I gained, lost, then regained a lot of weight. I went through periods of financial hardship. I never got past making honor roll. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, which affected my studies. I got rejected for several jobs. I still don’t have my driver’s license or a car. I grew apart from people I thought would be lifelong friends.
Most of all, I realized early on I wasn’t ready at all for college or adulthood, no matter how much I wanted to believe I was. Though I loved learning, I hated school because it was just another uphill battle of trying to prove myself to others; naturally, I felt the best solution to the problem was to run from it, like the child I still was.
As I got closer to the end of my senior year, I also felt another familiar feeling rising: the feeling of wanting more. I’d had a few professors speak to me about applying for grad school in previous semesters, and I began to entertain the idea. Still, my heart wasn’t set on it, even after applying and getting accepted.
I wasn’t sure I could handle two to three more years of academic stress, and I didn’t want to risk becoming a “professional student” as I’d heard family members refer to graduate students. Yet that changed when I started reevaluating my professional and personal goals. I realized the chances of earning a livable wage in Laredo with my degree were slim. I also knew there was still so much I wanted to learn and share, and a small window of opportunity to just go for it. So I did.
Which brings us to today. I am currently enrolled in the Master’s in Communication program, where I’m pursuing a concentration in Border and Latin American Media Studies. I’m one of the youngest and newest students in the program.
So far, it’s been exciting and also a little terrifying. I alternate between feeling extremely confident now that I have a degree, but also overwhelmed at how much I have yet to learn. In a strange way, that’s been one of my favorite things about grad school.
Starting from zero once again is testing my ability to thrive and adapt, just as my undergraduate years did. I’d like to think that I’m doing alright so far. Though this may sound incredibly cornier than an elote, I owe much of my success to my struggles; they have all been incredibly humbling experiences that forced me to choose what kind of adult I want to be. I know there are plenty more coming my way.
While I have an impressive set of skills I’ve developed over the years, starting my master’s degree has proven that I’m a master of none of them. There’s no telling if I will ever fully master everything I’m supposed to, but I’m starting to focus less on meeting the standards or desires of others, and more on creating and exceeding them for myself. This is the mindset I hope to carry with me throughout graduate school, because the moment that I chose to do so, I found myself feeling free. I can’t think of anything more freeing than choosing my future on my own terms and in my own time.