For 4 years, I fought my way through university. Even before I started, I wondered if I would be smart enough; if I would be able to keep up with the reading; if I would be able to learn to write academic papers. This self doubt was my biggest enemy through all of those years, more so than the towering piles of novels, articles and theory books that needed to be read, the complicated and abstract theories that I needed to get my head around, all the deadlines and the papers that needed writing.
Through the moments of self doubt, inconceivable stress, tears, breakdowns and all of those missed holidays and weekends where I had to study, I had one image in my head that motivated me to see my studies all the way to the end: of seeing myself standing next to my parents, proudly wearing a traditional English cap and gown. A symbol of where all of my hard work would take me, if I kept going even when things seemed impossibly hard.
I haven’t ever mentioned this on the blog before, because my blog is my happy place and the one place where I can actually choose to exclude it from my life, but I have had a chronic illness since I was 16. The reason I am finally writing about it now is that it’s part of this story. When I got the diagnosis all those years ago, I had just started studying for my A-levels and as my mum and I left the doctor’s office, we hesitantly, carefully, wondered aloud if I would be able to stay in school; If I would be able to get an education.
I chose then, as I still choose every single day to not let the illness beat me and stop me from achieving my dreams.
And guess what, I DID IT, I got an education! I didn’t just finish my A-levels, I went on to university, I went on a year abroad all on my own at the 4th best university in the world and I completed a Masters degree.
So it was a very emotional day when 2 weeks ago, the dream image I had carried with me finally came true, when I went to my graduation at Birkbeck University of London. Daniel was with me and my parents flew all the way from Denmark to see me wear that famous cap and gown outfit I had been talking about for years.
To think I almost didn’t go, because I thought it was a lot of money and because I was afraid that the ceremony would be boring or seem pointless. But as soon as I put on that gown I couldn’t stop smiling. It was really beautiful and meaningful to sit with all my fellow graduates and be celebrated by our families, knowing how hard each and every one of us has fought to be able to go up to that podium and shake hands with the Master. It didn’t seem like a silly, old fashioned ritual. It didn’t seem like a lot of money, to get to wear a silly outfit.
Because I have never felt so proud of myself.
I know I earned that cap and gown, that handshake and that piece of paper with my name and the words “award of merit” on it, through my own hard work, will power and determination. And most importantly, through the constant support and understanding of my family, my friends, and my boyfriend.
If there is anything my education has taught me, it is that we can achieve so much more than we think ourselves capable of, when we have to and because we want to. To anyone who is struggling with something in their life, I would tell them this: Don’t give up. You are so much stronger than you know.