What a whirlwind this week has been!
Despite saying for months that I didn’t really mind one way or the other if I got to go to my graduation, I decided to sack up on the Wednesday before the Saturday ceremony and buy a ticket to Richmond. I was already planning on a trip to New York City for some job interviews, so what’s a little stopover in RVA?
I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of graduation. These things tend to be 90% pomp and circumstance and only a small portion actual sentiment/appreciation, and besides, I’d already attended my high school graduation (throughout the duration of which I had to pee SO BADLY that I kind of blacked out and remember virtually nothing of the ceremony) and my college graduation (which was actually two ceremonies – one giant gathering for the whole 3,000 member graduating class, during which I cried inexplicably [hint: this is foreshadowing], and one smaller ceremony for the English grads), so I didn’t feel any burning desire to add another strut to my Walking Across A Stage in A Silly Outfit repertoire.
I completely mischaracterized this ceremony, however. Because my master’s program is (was!) so intimate, specialized and small, the graduation was not only interesting, it was downright moving.
First, the director of our program, who made it possible for me to graduate and to whom I will be forever indebted for her willingness to work around my INSANE medical journey, gave a talk. She actually gave a shout-out to this blog, so HOLLER, Y’ALL! Everyone cheered, and I got a little misty-eyed, to be honest.
Then came our graduation speaker, Fallon CCO Jeff Kling. If you have 20 minutes and even a passing interest in advertising, creativity, media, design or writing, please take the time to watch this video of his speech. You will not regret it.
After the ceremony, they called our names and we each walked across the stage to shake hands with our professors and receive our master’s degrees. I was completely calm and collected when my name was called, but then I looked out at the crowd and saw that they were giving me a standing ovation for some reason, and I burst into hysterical tears. I truly do not think I am deserving of any special recognition. I only did what anyone else in my position would do. Honestly, if anything, my desire to continue and complete my graduate studies in the midst of a cancer diagnosis was really kind of selfish. I was basically like, “WHATEVER, BODY, I’M THE BOSS OF THESE ORGANS AND NO MATTER HOW SICK THEY FEEL, I’M GOING TO MAKE THEM KEEP DOING WHAT I WANT TO DO.”
Anyway, I sobbed uncontrollably all the way across the stage. I hugged everyone. I hugged Jeff Kling, who has literally never met me or heard of me. I hugged my notoriously crusty, gruff professor who put out a hand for me to shake, which I ignored while embracing him fully and crying/snotting all over his button-up.
My friend Corey captured my emotional walk on camera:
I was right about one thing, at least: We did have to wear silly outfits. But I’m not even going to lie to you, internet. I kind of like the beret and I think I look pretty fly in it. (I’m in the middle!)
After graduation, my dad and I boarded a plane to New York City so that I could go to a bunch of job interviews. It was only my third or fourth trip to the Big Apple, and my second one since I turned 21. The last one was summer of 2012, when I visited my friend Hailee in Brooklyn and had a completely awesome adventure that involved touristy things like Times Sqaure, but also Viking halls, naked people passed out in cars, preventing a DUI by a total stranger and my favorite thing ever, late night sandwiches.
This time around, Hailee made me a walking map of some of NYC’s neighborhoods so that I could explore the Lower East Side, the East Village, the West Village, Chelsea and the High Line. In between interviews, I followed her route to check out the Chelsea Market, eat delicious Italian food and enjoy amazing views of the skyline. We met up for dinner and drinks and explored some more neighborhoods in Brooklyn. My dad and I also met up with my cousin, Danielle, who’s been living in Manhattan for more than a year now. I got a chance to chat with some alumni from my grad program, too.
At one point, I found myself downtown, standing in the shadow of One World Trade Center. An imposing structure stretching a symbolic 1776 feet high and seemingly made out of mirrors and magic because I don’t know how anything so majestic, shiny and moving can be constructed out of earthly materials, the building has been under construction for the better part of a decade. Most of New York is under construction, it seems. Despite being noisy and confusing to navigate, there’s something I like about the constant self-improvement happening in NYC. It seems hopeful. It feels indicative of progress, change, a willingness to adapt.
On a whim, I decided to head toward the building and found myself at the 9/11 Memorial, two pools emblazoned with the names of the people who perished in the attacks. The experience was considerably more emotional than I was expecting. Since my diagnosis, I’ve come to have a real and deep appreciation for how fragile and beautiful life is, and how terrible it is for anyone’s to end before its time. Prepare yourselves, cliché incoming: Life is awesome. I’m so glad to have mine, every bit of it, the good and bad.
In between all the socialization, walking ‘til I felt like collapsing and eating (YOU GUYS, THE EATING!!! There are restaurants serving the cuisine of nations I’ve never even heard of!), I started to gain a real appreciation for what it means to live in New York. Some people say New York is too much, but on the contrary, I think it’s not enough. Not enough space, not enough time, not enough money to do all the incredible things there are to do.
Until we meet again, New York. So long, and thanks for all the pastrami.