My mom took a picture of me on my first day of every grade. These were staged photos, the type families tend to be adverse to. They always included a very fake smile.
That cycle would repeat and did repeat, nearly every year of my suburban public school upbringing. It was normal and expected. I hated it.
However, after my parents had helped me move into Stanley Hall and got ready to say goodbye there wasn’t a staged photo. My mom took just one; it was me walking away, venturing onto my newest journey. And within these first steps began the transformation into real humanity, and in every subsequent picture she took of me stood a different person.
Now, nostalgic as ever, I cannot help but reflect upon what I have been fortunate to receive, and the amount that I owe to my undergraduate time here at the University of Iowa. And although I will be staying here for graduate school, I know from May 13th onward next to nothing during the day to day will be the same. But after all, that’s kinda the point.
An ideal university teaches us how to live once we are thrown into what is called “real life.” The mundane, tiresome, and emotionally draining routine of post-graduation, the sunny days where I know I’ll be stuck in some steel skyscraper punching numbers from a cubical where “time is money” has been forever hammered into my brain. You know, adulthood.
And although there is no set script for how to deal with adulthood, I feel as if I am ready. I couldn’t say what specifically I learned that told me I would be adjusted, but as I prepare to transition to adulthood under the Tigerhawk cheesy motto of “once a hawkeye, always a hawkeye,” I feel the support I need to write this first chapter.
To this point, everything has just felt like an introduction, a prequel to finding out what life is really like. Chapter One begins soon, and with it comes the part where my book is mostly in my control, where I get to move the pen that fills the pages.
I know some days I will not be the hand that writes my story, so by no means do I expect a perfect life where everything goes the way my outline says it will. There will be days where I write happy endings and days where I can’t seem to stop writing tribulations. In those, sometimes it’ll be hard to live.
But the perfect life isn’t the one where everything goes right. It is the one I am currently living. It is my life, which means I can choose how I let the disasters define me. I can choose what words come next. Real life includes trying to find the meaning within my failures. Real life includes accepting when there is no meaning.
When I say I would change nothing, it is not to say I didn’t make mistakes. In all likelihood, in my journey to maturity, I have made far more mistakes than not. It is to say that when I lean into these mistakes I learn more about how to hold the pen to avoid shaky lines.
No way will I easily take all problems as they come and immediately look for the good in it all. It’ll be challenging, but so were these past four years. In the difficulties, I learned to become the person I was always meant to be. The consistently aloof, goofy, weirdo who probably cares a bit too much and really wants to make a difference in someone’s life, and who desperately wants to be irreplaceable, but who knows his true worth because he is reminded of it daily.
Coming into Iowa I was not that person. I spent most of my time depressed, blaming the world. A reader while a stranger wrote every aspect of my story, never once trying to take the pen and define himself.
For me, when I talk about my experiences it’ll seldom be in terms of lectures and tests, the cognitive knowledge I rarely read in a textbook. It’ll be in the moments that taught me to be an actual decent person, irrecognisable to the jerk who stood in the aforementioned staged photos.
I submit this as the purpose of Higher Education, for it was these four years that taught me to hold the pen and write my own story as a real human.
To know how to think, feel, dream, desire, love, fail, and succeed. To learn how to exist in the crazy, unpredictable but considerably beautiful world we often overlook. To discover that within each breath lies the potential for real, significant change. To have a garbage Quizno’s sandwich during my first week inspire me to not let the next four years be defined by horrible food and loneliness. To the unexpected little things that have shaped me daily. To the corny Orientation chant that told me to “be there, make their day, choose your attitude, and play.”
Take the time to breathe in the world around and you’ll realize how, past all the stresses, heartbreak, hair pulling, and self-doubt that you’ve got a pretty special thing going on around you. I encourage you, whether you graduate or have a few more years, to take 10 minutes to take stock of everything. Although soon people will move away, the campus will change, and the atmosphere will be often hard to remember, whether it’s tomorrow or in six years, you’ll be prepared for all of it.
As I soon stand in unfamiliar locations with unfamiliar people, I plan to take a breath and realize that I have been taught all of the familiarity I will need within. And although soon I’ll say goodbye to the warmth of these past few years, I will never have to say goodbye to what has shaped me, for I will always carry it within.
Within the people who I will call weekly, the ones I’ll see once in a while, and the ones I’ve come to forget. Within the infinite learnings that have shaped and will continue to shape my existence. Within the trials that will push me to make the difference I know I am destined to make.
Within the ink that’ll unfold in my story, and my shaky hand that holds the pen, guided by the place I call home. The place that made me who I am today.
The person who sees’s millions of blank white pages and can’t wait to fill them with ink. The person who finds the most exciting part of his story to be that the best part hasn’t been written yet.
Me, who, on May 13th, will be asked by his mom to pose for a staged picture inside of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It will feel normal and expected. However this time, with pen in hand, I can guarantee the smile will be real. And I will love every second of it because I have loved every second leading up to it.
Thus begins Chapter One.
-Kelin Martin Silber