Today was my last official day. All of my finals are done, papers turned in, and classes completed. It's crazy to think that 4 1/2 years ago I was anticipating my acceptance letter in the mail. I even remember the first time I came to Kentucky for a visit. The moment I crossed the bridge in Louisville, I cried. Something just came over me and I knew this was going to be my new home. The crazy thing about it is, I wasn't even looking at UK. I was looking at UofL (what a joke that was). I remember getting on campus there and thinking how miserable it was. It was a nice day out and sure the ballpark impressed me, but I knew something wasn't right. How could this be? I was so excited to go there and now everything I had thought I knew was suddenly all up in the air. My mom suggested we drive through Lexington while were here and see the campus. I agreed because I've always been a big college basketball fan, so I knew of Kentucky, but what I didn't know surprised me.
If you've ever been to UK, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say it was one of those days. The grass was green, the weather was perfect and the sun was shinning. It was one of those days. One of those days that makes you happy to be alive. One of those days where you stop for a moment to just take it all in and really see how amazing campus is. I went on a tour and it had everything I wanted. The Johnson center (our workout facility) was amazing, William T Library was breathtaking, and the fraternity boy with the open shower window in the six pack was humoring. It just felt like home to me.
Coming from Chicago I knew 3 people at UK and I wasn't really close with any of them. So it was like I was moving 400 miles away from home... alone. But I was ready. So I packed up my room, said goodbye to all I knew and never turned back. Over the past four years I've been home only a handful of times. I've stayed in Lexington every summer since I've been here and haven't regretted a thing. I know my parents would have loved to see me more and of course I feel the same, but they knew that once I left home I wasn't coming back.
Every day that passed I fell in love more in love with UK. The people here are one of a kind, the support on campus is unmatched, the opportunities to grow and learn are above all else. And I'm thankful everyday that I chose to come here. I became myself here. I learned what I love and what I hate, what I stand for, and what motivates me. I learned how to become a better friend, daughter, and person to those around me. And I grew into myself and learned to love everything I had to offer. Coming from high school we're all so self conscious and want more than anything to fit in. We're trying to find our place in this world and learn what our purpose is. And coming here, I found what I was looking for.
I found a place I love to call home. I found that canes is kryptonite and the Johnson center the next day is not my friend. I found out when it rains in Lexington, it pours and that there is no such thing as having too many rain boots. I was able to find what Lexington as a city has to offer and how much I love Keeneland (I also found between the drinks and the races at Keeneland, I can never seem to come out on top). I found the girls who will stand beside me at my wedding. I found people that will be in my life forever. A university that I will love for the rest of my life and a place I want to have my kids go. I found out I bleed blue and not red. I found my passion and what I plan to do after graduating.
But above all, I found myself.
When I look back at my time here at UK, I'll remember all the crazy adventures I've had here. I'll remember it all fondly and laugh when I'm telling these stories to my grandchildren. I'll remember how much I hate UK parking and all the parking tickets I've received over the years, the overload of attacking ninja squirrels on campus, and how it rains for a weeks at a time. I'll remember the wonderful teachers who gave me the world, the amazing student organizations that helped me grow, and the outstanding support for my disabilities (shout out to the DRC). I'll remember how good it felt to sleep in when your 8am gets canceled and how you pray there's enough snow to cancel classes after 10am. I'll remember the UK alerts I get via email... and text... and call... and then remember how you also call my mom, who will eventually ends up calling me. I'll remember rush week, the house parties, and the boys. I'll remember getting up at 7am for a afternoon football game that I never actually make it to and the sea of blue that is tailgating. I'll remember the excitement of being in Rupp, the chills that come when the lights go down and the tears that fill my eyes every time the promo video plays. I'll remember the road to the national championship, beating UofL in the final four and the irreplaceable feeling running down Limestone after winning it all. I also remember that one time we lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT, but I won't speak fondly of it. I'll recall, but not fully remember the 2:30am phone calls to mad mush, the late night walks to qdoba, and the joy that was brought from canes staying open after hours on the weekends. I'll remember the tradition, the talent, and the legacy of UK and I'll keep all of these memories with me forever, no matter where the road takes me in the future.
Walking home from my last class was bittersweet. My entire life I've done one thing and that's going to school. 17 years of school starting from kindergarden and ending today... It's scary to think about. But what I think what it really comes down to is fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of the uncharted. Fear of leaving behind a life known and starting new. Fear of moving away and fear of losing friends. Fear of actually being a responsible adult for once and fear of making it out in the world. For some it's fear of not getting a job or fear of having to moving back home. For others it's fear of leaving behind loved ones or fear of never leaving this town. But what I have to keep reminding myself is: fear isn't real. Fear is mental. It's excitement in disguise. It's healthy and it's is good. Fear keeps you on your toes and ready to take on the world. It gives us courage embrace new things, to dream, and above all else to live.
I'd love to rewind and do it all over again, and I'd do it exactly the same. But like I said before, it's bittersweet. I've been looking forward to my life for so long. The moment where I can be done with tests and papers or having to deal with that one horrible person in a group project. I'm ready to live, be free, and start my life. And I wouldn't be where I am now without you. UK has fully prepared me for the road ahead in more ways than I will ever imagine. And going to school here has set me up for the life I've always wanted. My dreams are met, my potential is growing, and the possibilities are endless.
Looking back at the 18 year old me, I smile. She's was so nervous and excited; more eager than ever to get started. She's young and ready for life and she knew all good things were on the way. But what she didn't know was how in love she was going be. Kentucky wasn't going to just be letters on her chest, they were going to hold meaning for her. Something that she wouldn't be able to describe, but instead something that needed to be felt. And UK wasn't just going to be a college for her, it was going to be her home.
So, Kentucky, I'll conclude with a few short words: thank you. I thank you for all you have done for myself and my life; for all the good times and the wonderful memories. You have forever changed my life for the better.
I will love you always,