Four Years by Sydney Joy Willis, Artwork by Claire Forehand

In 2016, I moved 400 miles away from home to Nashville, Tennessee, to spend four years of my life in college.

Four years of walking from class to class, sitting at a variety of desks in a variety of classrooms, all with bright lights fixed into the ceiling, beaming down upon me so brightly that I would find myself squinting at the white notebook paper in front of me the same way I might squint at the snow on a sunny December afternoon. Four years of living in dormitories, shitting apartments, spare bedrooms, and my car.

Four years of many nights which should have been spent in slumber, but were spent instead illuminated by the soft blue light of my laptop as I finished another assignment that would be due when morning came again. Four years of juggling all that’s due next along with all that was due the week prior, which I had not yet completed, my excuse usually being that I was too depressed, which was sometimes true. Other times, I fell behind simply because I had replaced my fear of failure with pure apathy -- a useful coping mechanism, although it has its downsides.

Four years of driving two blocks down from campus to a parking garage to discreetly smoke a cigarette or five. I would often drive there between classes or in the middle of the night to serve as a break between whatever I was studying or writing, and occasionally I found myself sitting there as the sun rose, enjoying the nicotine and caffeine racing side by side through my veins, wondering whether I should go to class or take a six hour nap.

Four years of what must have added up to months of time spent hitting a tiny white ball toward a small hole in the ground, hundreds of yards awahy (I was a college golfer).

Four years of making new friends and sharing intimate moments with people whom, if I saw them in the grocery store now, I would hesitate to wave to and may even attempt a sly escape into a different aisle. Four years of slipping in and out of loneliness. Four years telling myself it would all be worth it.

I continued telling myself that I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, but now that I stand at the mouth of the cave, I find myself under a night sky with no sign of dawn and no visible horizon.

I watched my name scroll from the bottom of my laptop screen. . .

Sydney Joy Willis

. . . until it disappeared at the top of the screen. Nash (my bf) and I cheered for a moment, alone on our living room couch. Nash’s dog, Ernie, tilted his head in response to our cheering, unable to comprehend the virtual graduation he was attending. It wasn't what I had anticipated my graduation would be like in my moments of fantasization over the past years.

What does this mean though? Should I really pretend that my final months in school had any level of normalcy to them? If my graduation was a strange one, is it an omen that my life ahead will be strange as well?

I’ve decided to make this choas a sign that I must recognize rather than an omen I have no control over. It’s a sign that all of our priorities must be re-thought and reconsidered. School has tied me up pretty tighly for these past few years, but now that I have been set free of the burden of a backback, I can do whatever my heart desires (within reason, of course).

It’s also a sign that things will continue to change for both better and worse, and that we can choose to be either spectators or players. The world needs unique minds at a time like this -- people who aren’t afraid to take the road less traveled and are willing to try to make a true difference in the world.

My message is this: if you, like me, are at a crossroad right now, I hope you consider making the leap into something that might not promise stability and comfort, but will make a change in the world. Take this time to let go of your fears and think about what really makes you happy. Take this time to think about what you will do to make the world a better place.

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