Some of you may know me as one of the BARE girls or as a Gamma or as the springboard diver who flopped at conference championships or as the girl with Bell’s palsy or the girl who worked with admissions. Many of you may not know me at all. I wore many hats during my time at Trinity, and now I am wearing just one. I stand before you today as a graduate, someone who has survived higher education and has grown an enormous amount as a result of the knowledge, skills and experience I have acquired.
Like many other people, I am a list-maker. I have a book filled with lists, and among them is one titled, “Things I Learned in College.” I learned in Dr. Balbert’s writing workshop that an essay should only have three or four “to be” verbs. Dr. Davis taught me how to create an integrated marketing campaign. Dr. Carlisle taught me that truth is subjective and each person holds her own truth. Dr. Robertson’s class taught me that sometimes you actually need to read the textbook. Through Dr. Becker’s Body Project programs I learned how to improve my relationship with my body and help others do the same. And Dr. Tingle taught me how to make an impact by becoming a servant leader.
But, this list is not purely academic. I have learned lots of other things while at Trinity: not to regret anything as long as I can learn from it; that not having a plan is sometimes the best plan; that many bad decisions make the best stories; how to read two paragraphs of a book and fake my way through a critical discussion; and, most importantly, I have learned how to run in five-inch heels.
I spent many years at this school complaining about my stress, whining about how little I slept, and crying about my over-commitment. Finally, by senior year, I remembered I needed to appreciate all of those moments, because some people would kill to have the types of problems we do.
With the stress Trinity gladly provides comes the support of everyone around us. I mentioned earlier that I worked with admissions. This January, I was speaking on a panel at Trinity in Focus when a parent asked a question I had surprisingly never encountered. The father in the back of the room stood up and asked what brought us to Trinity and what kept us here. The former was a classic one, and I laughed to myself when I thought about falling in love with the Riverwalk at fifteen. I thought it was a romantic place and dreamed about going on a date there. So, I looked for colleges in San Antonio. To this day, I have not been on a date at the Riverwalk.
Then the panel began to answer the second question: what made us stay. I allowed everyone else to answer while I crafted my response and made sure to breathe. My answer was simple: the community.
I went on to share my story of senior year. On my road trip from Connecticut last fall, I became extremely sick. My dad and I ended up in an emergency room in Georgia, where my life as I knew it changed. Over a period of ten minutes, pain shot through my neck and my face grew numb. I soon learned I had developed Bell’s palsy and that it could last up to six months. For those of you who don’t know, Bell’s palsy is a condition in which the immune system attacks the facial nerve, causing temporary paralysis in half of the face. But, I did not comprehend what that meant until the next day, when I looked in the mirror.
My reflection told me that I no longer had control of the right side of my face, that when I spoke my cheek flared out, that I could not blink my eye, drink liquids easily, or look happy when I smiled. A week passed before I finally reached San Antonio. During the days leading to my arrival, I grew anxious. I had nightmares about being made fun of in class for my loss of articulation. And I mentally wrote a sassy speech that I was fully prepared to deliver if anyone tried to mock me.
I should not have been surprised, but I was, when I realized that I never had to snap at anyone. In fact, people were even nicer to me. I wrote an article for the Trinitonian to share my experience, an opportunity I couldn’t imagine having at a big school. Then I began saying hi to students I had never met, some unfamiliar professors emailed me, and the nurses helped me out even more. I felt welcomed and supported.
In November, a photo of me dressed up like Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney went viral. The Trinity community rallied behind me. Alumni, acquaintances and people I had never met reached out to me. A sophomore baseball player I had never seen sent me a Facebook message including the following: “I just want you to know that you’re not in it alone, there is always someone who cares about you and always someone wanting to make you smile.” A month later, another guy I had never met stopped me at a party to tell me that I will always be beautiful no matter what. And I continued to share my broken smile with everyone I passed on campus for the remainder of the year.
I tell my self-indulgent story as a way to illustrate how amazing this school is beyond its academics and reputation. It’s not about me. It’s about community. I would like to think that other schools have this sense of community, and I’m sure many do. But the connection I feel with the people at this university has been unparalleled to that of any other community in my life thus far. I could not imagine experiencing my academic achievements, flopping in a championship dive meet, or even navigating my Bell’s palsy journey elsewhere. And I’m glad I didn’t.
Support during trying times is not the only way I experienced community here. I also stayed at Trinity for the sunshine, the fountain, the traditions, the friendships, the close relationships with professors, the struggle to find a parking spot, the library raves, the broken driers, Overheard at Trinity, the Chocolate Festival, nights at Club Rio and obviously the Aramark food.
I’m saddened that I have to leave. But, what I have learned through watching my friends graduate and through interactions with older alumni is that Trinity will never leave us. We will carry this school on our resumes, many of us will sport stickers on our cars, and our friendships will last for many alumni weekends to come. I may not have gone on any romantic Riverwalk dates or found my husband, but I met some of the women in my future bridal party. And, seeing as you can’t divorce your friends, I’d call that a win.
As we drive away from campus and head to our next adventures, remember we will always have a home in San Antonio. I wish you all the best of luck in your next endeavors; may we passively stay connected by liking each other’s statuses on Facebook. In the words of that song only the choir kids know, “Throughout our days and all our lives, our hearts will cherish thee: Alma Mater, Alma Mater, all hail to Trinity.”