A Simple Photo

"Come stop your crying
It will be alright
Just take my hand
And hold it tight 
I will protect you
From all around you
I will be here
Don't you cry
For one so small,
You seem so strong 
My arms will hold you,
Keep you safe and warm"
- "You'll Be In My Heart," Phil Collins

In six days, I’ll be dressed in cap and gown, walking across a stage to receive a diploma representing the fact that this chapter of my life is drawing to a close. It seems so simple – all I have to do is take the piece of paper, move the tassel from the right to the left, pause for a photo, and then keep walking.

But when I think about that moment, when I really realize that I’ve reached the end, emotions and memories rush through me. The things that I’ve had to face and overcome in the past eighteen years… well, it’s pretty remarkable that I’ve actually made it to this point.

I’m always saying I’m not a sentimental or cheesy person. I don’t spend hours reminiscing about my childhood, and I can easily part with beloved stuffed animals and toys from when I was young. But, leading up to graduation, I can’t help but replay the video of my life in my head, remembering the lows and the highs, the pain and the joy, and the simple moments that will forever be in my heart.

There’s a photo of when I was just around one year old. It’s a simple photo of me in a burnt crimson like, faded and worn pajama outfit, my hair a curly mess. My dad balances me on my wobbly feet, as I try to stand upon his sturdy legs. It’s such a simple photo. A quick snapshot of a small, red haired child with a crooked smile just trying to stand as her dad holds her upright. The moment is forever captured right then and there.

Yet, there is so much that is missed. The child with the megawatt smile is oblivious to the countless surgeries ahead, the scars that will be woven into her skin, and the pain that will hold her. She’s not ready for the constant stares and stinging words that will echo in her mind. As she lights up when she looks into her dad’s eyes, she doesn’t know what it’s like to look into a mirror and feel emptiness. She’s just starting to stand, unaware of how many times she will be knocked down. Protected in her dad’s arms, she doesn’t know how hard and difficult life will be.

Here is this small child, with a life of mountains and obstacles ahead. Yet, as she tries to stand tall, you can already see the fight that is inside her little body. You can see the fire that’s burning bright. And while she may be oblivious to the long climb ahead, she is also unaware of the beauty that will encompass her amidst the storm of ugliness. She hasn’t learned the strength of her loving family. She hasn’t experienced the magical fireworks of happiness and pride that will accompany new adventures and victories. She’s a stranger to the energizing rush that will be felt when she uses her story and her voice to fight for change. She doesn’t know the power that will come with learning to stand tall no matter how many times she is beaten down.

So when I walk across that stage, I’ll remember the thousands of moments that got me to this place. The path hasn’t been easy. And while this chapter is coming to close, I still have so much life ahead of me. I still have so much to learn and so much to overcome. But just like that little girl, it’s holding tight to loved ones that will keep me standing tall.

"When destiny calls you, you must be strong
I may not be with you
But you got to hold on"

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