As a young adult, I’m often spoonfed notions that I have yet to enter “the real world.” However, I can assure those critics that there has never been a fortress sheltering me from trial and error. The pitfalls of life do not discriminate against age. I now carry a bagful of new experiences under my belt, a collection of rocks, sharp objects, and feathers. The sentiment is heavy, yet it takes a powerful force to stretch a person. I was stretched in all aspects throughout this second round at Cornell. These blessings and obstacles tested my endurance the most:

I searched for my home church

To those without faith, finding a church may seem relatively easy. “Just pick one and go,” some might say. It’s not that simple. As a Pastor’s daughter, I know firsthand what to search for and how to spot red flags when a church is not in accordance with my beliefs. After a year and half of testing the waters, I have finally settled at His Tabernacle Ithaca. It was spiritually exhausting to scramble for a house of worship while also wondering if others agreed with my ideas of the Bible. I can relax at last, knowing that I no longer have to guard my views, as I am surrounded by like-minded believers. In two years, I will begin this search again. Thanks to this, I now know how to navigate my search in whichever city I end up next.

I lost my great-grandmother in November

She will always be Grandma Henderson to me, a 102-year-old family treasure. Her wisdom, boldness, and encouragement still impact me daily. This was the first major loss of my life. When I gave her my last goodbye as I walked away from the cemetery, I left not knowing how I would carry on. I cried in the most random places, in front of complete strangers, at the most inconvenient times. I regret none of it. I faced my grief head on, even if it meant weeping on the shoulder of my jogging instructor or in the office of a professor. Today, that daily remembrance has turned into a spirit of thanksgiving. When I feel empowered, I can hear her saying, “Oooo child, you’re somethin’ else.” When something good comes my way, I know she delights with me and still shouts, “Why isn’t that wonderful?!”

I discovered I am allergic to everything

I have had digestive issues for the longest time, which caused me to need access to student disability services for the remainder of my college career. Things took a turn for the worse when I began having allergic reactions to foods in my face, instead of just my stomach. Suddenly, my cheeks were burning with a piercing sensation and later, swelling. I could feel my mouth going numb. With the help of a great doctor who took my concerns seriously, I discovered I was allergic to these common foods among others: wheat, rye, oats, yeast, coffee, caffeine, chocolate, casein (the protein in dairy products), cheese (and other mold foods like pickles and mushrooms), chicken, eggs, pork, tomato, green beans, potatoes, corn, soy, chili pepper, almost all seafood, peanuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, lamb, etc. I’ve only cried about these circumstances once. I’m usually a good sport but it really can suck. Food is a tool for community. People gather at the table and it’s impossible to join the table when there’s nothing for you to eat, making it very easy to feel alone. Eating is now always a mindful practice out of sheer necessity. Sure, it’s annoying and tiresome but it definitely beats feeling like your face is on fire or being stuck in the bathroom all day after every meal.

I fell in love and got my heart broken

This one is pretty self-explanatory. They say you will always remember the first time you truly loved someone. I know I will. I just finished writing a whole album about it. As I continue to heal, I constantly remind myself that my feelings were valid and I’ve made the correct decision to let that army boy go. Sometimes I have to kick myself and accept that this horror story wasn’t a dream. He was real. I’m real. The consequences are unavoidable. At least I provided a service member with some Pinterest-worthy care packages during his deployment.

I officially declared my major

I’ve been a Performing & Media Arts major, verbally speaking, since the start of my Cornell journey. I’ve never felt more within my element. Yet, when it came to finally declaring my major on paper, I got preoccupied with what others may say to me. I’m a young woman who studies theatre history and has a course devoted to the application of theatrical makeup alone. That’s not the first thing people imagine when they hear ‘Ivy League educated,’ is it? Then, my father said something crucial to me, “it’s not the major that shapes the writer…it’s the experience.”

I affirmed what was most important to me

While ventures into poetry, screenwriting/playwriting, and journalism will always interest me, I am a singer-songwriter first and foremost. Writing songs since the age of 6 and being a self-taught guitarist since I was 12, I know making music is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve tried passing it off as hobby to appear as a sophisticated student at an elite school. But it’s not a hobby. It’s who I am – sounds cheesy yet so true. I don’t know what the next two years of college hold. All I am certain of is that after graduation, you will find me on a plane to Nashville never looking back. I don’t care if people label me as “impractical,” or if I hear someone say, “LOL the valedictorian from my high school wants to be a rock star” anymore. I’ve never been practical. If I was, I would have never spontaneously walked into a café in Collegetown with my guitar and performed an original song. If I was, I would have never been offered a gig for the incoming year right after singing my outro at that very café. These are my dreams and I’m going to chase them for as long as the songs keep coming out of me.

It’s astonishing how quickly two years can whip around. This period of growth was lonely, frustrating, disturbing, and unprecedented. Sprinkled in were tastes of gratitude, inspiration, ambition, and humility. Sophomore year made me question all my life decisions repeatedly. Nevertheless, it has led me to trust that there will be fruits for my persistence. I just need to keep watering them.