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20 Years Since College - It Stares At Me Every Day

I wanted to write a "Dear Freshman Self" note in this post to mark the twenty-year milestone of when I first stepped on as a college student. I just couldn't find the words and the disconnect that brings about the romance of connecting with one's former self. 

It's partly frustrating because the day is so very vivid in my mind to this day. And of course, the next four years to follow, like many, provided such essential moments and life jewels that would develop me in various areas - some that I've still yet to understand. 

So yeah, it's been twenty years. Twenty freakin' years! 

As amazing as the time since has been, I still somehow continue to struggle to find the words to capture what that milestone means. I know it's important. After all, I'm punching the keys to search for it! I've tried so many times to sit in front of my laptop and pen a letter to an eighteen-year-old me who had no idea of what was to come. 

Twenty years ago, I carried a massive chip on my shoulder against the world as a first-generation student. 

"I'll show them!" Current-day me would likely respond, "Awesome! But, who exactly?" 

Well, you know, "them"! The world.

"The world?" 

The conversation between the two of us is much too predictable and vivid. Because there's a reason for it...

I merely look back and what keeps flooding to the surface is indeed that feeling, and that realization of the journey since then. I look back often (and even today for this post), as a working professional on a college campus, in a college environment, working through college problems - every day - and I'm reminded of that chip that was once there. I'm reminded of where I've been. I'm reminded of the dreams I had. The dreams I thought I wanted. The dreams I never saw coming. I'm reminded of the eighteen-year-old me, who sits across a desk from the current me, just in various forms and makeup. Every. Single. Day. 

There are so many times, I think, "Yeah, [said student] reminds me of myself". 

I look down the hall, and I stare into a room of direct professional reports. All of them have an interest in this career field, with a few who look to me for guidance, development, and support. And at the very bare minimum, I'm their boss. Every day, they remind me of myself, too - freshly graduated, with a chip on my shoulder, looking to prove I can make it in this field. 

They too, sit across from the current me, every day. 

So, here in 2023, as I reflect on twenty years ago which marked the beginning of my college career, and in many ways, launched so much of what is my life today - even with a shuttered alma mater (RIP Caz) - I'm constantly reminded every day of that freshman version of myself. And the product that came from those four years of college. 

Ultimately, I'm humbled. I truly am. The daily reminder of the journey is awesome. And I understand not everyone carries that so closely with them. For others, it's very easy to have that romance and nostalgia flood to the surface, drawing a start comparison for context. 

Every time I'm asked about "my journey or road to where I am" by a student or budding professional, for me it's not hard to open the vault within, find that eighteen-year-old me, and feel what he felt, know what he knew, to understand how hard it was just to get to that point, and just how important that step was toward other levels I've maneuvered through. Because I draw from him, again, every day. 

Ultimately, it's tough to write a post talking to your freshman self, when the distance hasn't been created. And for some people, that distance is present. But for me, he's a daily reminder. Of so many things that I'm thankful for in my life. 

As I wrap this up, I conclude with an excerpt from a paper I wrote in Grad school, which also doubled as a speech I gave to first-generation students within a first-year program. The excerpt (which serves as the speech's intro) captures my feelings and remembrance of that first day - first hours - at Cazenovia College. The piece still resonates with me so closely. 

Here's to twenty years since starting college. 

---

On a hot summer August day, I stood there watching her tears flow through the window. For most individuals, the need to console, to embrace, or to somewhat contribute to reducing the overwhelming emotion would trigger an action, but I knew that she needed to let the moment happen. My mom, and dad, both spent their lives – in some ways, gave their lives – so that this very moment could happen – leaving me on a college campus. 

My dad, with the same providing manner he has excelled at over the years, managed to hide his emotions, console my mother, and operate a vehicle all at the same time. I still remember his slight nod assuring that I’ve done good as he pulled the vehicle away slowly. I stood there watching the mini-van that just transported my entire life to this unknown place in the world, fade down the street, before being gone for good with a left turn. 

I stood there staring for a few seconds as if something else was supposed to happen in this new chapter. This was now new waters for me. It was new waters for my parents too, whom I always went to for advice and help. College? Me? Imagine that? 

As I turned around, the vision became clearer, and in that moment was born this chip on my shoulder that would also get me through the next decade of my life. It was a chip that represented struggle, sacrifice, and unfairness, and it grew by the second as I processed my new home. There it was, the cliché quad, filled with very few faces like mine. That chip on my shoulder suddenly added a new layer of proving myself, my worth, and that I indeed belonged there.

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