Confessions of a college daughter
It’s the morning of my high school graduation, and I open a letter in her elegant blue script. She writes, “Our mother-daughter story is unique because we’ve grown up together.”
My mom found out she was pregnant with me when she was nineteen, the same age I am today. I’ve never asked about this moment, but I imagine the thoughts spinning in her head—visions of a career circling down the drain, mountains of diapers piled where her beloved books used to be.
My whole life I wondered: what life did she envision for herself before a baby fell in her lap?
Growing up, trying to understand my mother’s story was like trying to read a book that had been dropped in the pool: pages stuck together, the text smeared, illegible. So, I filled in the blanks myself. In my old version of the story, I was an accident that derailed her life
On the way home from her college reunion, my mother told me the story of her first Mother’s Day with a beaming smile. She described a group of college girls and an infant sitting around a brunch table. Despite the perplexed looks from the waitress, she told me she felt special. She went on to explain how her first years of college were filled with self-doubt and loneliness. Without a trace of regret in her warm brown eyes, she looked at me and said, “after you, I started to do really well in school. You were the reason. You gave me purpose.”
There’s this picture of me at my mom’s college graduation. As I’m squirming trying to pull the silk cap off her head, she’s glowing with pride. Although I was only a toddler, I’m so grateful to have been present for that moment. What was it exactly? Was it the moment she proved that regardless of the unexpected, you can still pursue your dreams? I’m not so sure.
As I move through college, my mother’s story holds a different significance in my heart. In this phase of our lives, we do not become our most fulfilled selves in spite of obstacles but because of them.
I share this story to encourage a reinterpretation of the college experience. This is not a cautionary tale nor a call to thwart your plans for the future. Surrounded by high-achieving peers, we are motivated academic attainments and professional aspirations. Conventionally speaking, this is our purpose as students and to lose sight of this purpose is to waste an opportunity.
I challenge this notion.
After my first few semesters at Duke, I have come to understand that this opportunity can only be wasted when we restrict our accomplishments to the contents of our textbooks and resumes. In order to feel truly fulfilled, we need to understand that these four years are not only about checking off boxes, but also motivating to become a better version of ourselves. This motivation should not be external nor tied to our identities as students. Rather, it should be intrinsic and connected to our values as human beings.
My mother-daughter story has taught me that this motivation can come from unlikely places. For this reason, Maria Shepard is my inspiration. While I have yet to discover what truly motivates me, I do know that I want to honor my mother’s strength, grace, and optimism in all of my pursuits.