In five months, I will graduate from college.
Through endless Buzzfeed articles, #adulting tweets, and fellow college students around the country, I’m told that I’m supposed to be dreading this date. But I’m not. May 8, 2016 is not blindsiding me. The fact is, I have been preparing for this day for 22 years.
Ever since fifth grade when I started a petition to allow kids to vote in the 2004 presidential election, I knew that I wanted to influence change in the United States. I reaffirmed that desire in high school, when I started a political blog for my school newspaper’s website. Then, when a controversial right-wing radio personality called a law student a slut for demanding her university include contraceptives in their student health insurance policy, I became more passionate about combatting injustice in women’s equality and reproductive rights.
I knew where I needed to go to learn the tools to be part of the legislative process. I applied and was admitted to American University in Washington, D.C. In the fall of 2012, I bid farewell to the small New England town of New Canaan, Connecticut, and relocated to Washington, D.C., where I would spend the next four years studying political science.
Right away, I noticed that AU was packed with students like me, students on a mission to create change for the greater good of America and the world. I had friends who spent their weekends participating in marches for climate justice while other friends spent their free time reading quotes from Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography. Everyone had a passion, and so did I.
At American, I quickly learned that simply attending my classes and completing my assignments was not enough to understand policy change and how to influence the process. Sophomore year, I applied for and was offered an internship in the marketing and membership services department at EMILY’s List, a political action committee that raises money to elect pro-choice Democratic women. EMILY’s List is an organization I had supported since high school, so getting the chance to work in their office was an unbelievable opportunity. Answering the phones and responding to donor queries was exciting, but also stressful. It was my first D.C. internship and I made tons of mistakes like transferring calls to the wrong departments. But I’m thankful for every mistake, because each one taught me something new which helped me complete my next task, and prepared me for my next internship.
I went on to intern in the communications departments at NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and most recently, the National Partnership for Women & Families. By combining my coursework with the hands-on experience I had in these nonprofit organizations, I expanded my professional skills and developed my understanding of the lawmaking process.
Each internship only strengthened my desire to seek justice and equality for American women. By the time I left the office on my last day interning at the National Partnership, I felt capable of being an active contributor to the movement for women’s equality. I started my internship career nervously asking my EMILY’s List supervisor for help handling a call with an angry donor, and finished my internship career confidently presenting a social media strategy I conceptualized to the entire communications team at the National Partnership. I grew not only as a student, but as an ambitious young professional.
Courtesy of the National Partnership for Women & Families
College didn’t just help me grow as a young professional, but as an independent woman. In between my internships, I spent a semester abroad in Brisbane, Australia. While all of my friends studied in Europe where they easily and frequently visited each other, I was far away, alone in a country with a 14-hour time difference. Even though no one was there to hold my hand during those five months, I made a home for myself and adjusted to my surroundings. For the first time ever, I took myself out for meals and traveled solo. I experienced true solitude, and it was powerful. I learned how to live mindfully, which gave me inner strength. I brought that sense of power with me back to Washington, and carried it with me in the classroom and the office.
I’m not the same person who moved into her freshman dorm at 18. I have learned a lot about the three branches of government and how they work together. But college has not just taught me the who, what, and where, but the why and the how. I no longer just demand Congress to expand access to family planning services for women, but I ask why women’s reproductive health is a politically divisive issue in the first place and strive to understand the root of the problem. At 22 years old, I am a critical thinker, and I am ready to take my capabilities outside the classroom and into the field full-time. Not only am I thankful for the education I received within the walls of the classroom, but I am thankful that I pushed myself to do things that scared me. These experiences showed me that I am capable of being the change I wish to see in the world.
While I know what future I dream of creating for myself and women across the country, there is so much unknown. I don’t know for sure where I’m going to work, where I’m going to live, or what kind of job I’ll be doing. What I do know is that wherever life takes me, I will continue to expand my skills and strengthen my passion. The unknown may be scary, but I’m not scared, because I trust myself to know what’s best for me and make the right decisions.
In five months, I will graduate from college. I am not afraid. I am fearless.