It is nearly two o’clock in the morning on the night before I return to school for my final semester of my undergraduate degree. I have nearly fifty tabs open on my computer, most of them applications to such-and-such job or internship, maybe even a half-finished email to Professor So-and-So. But I’m not looking at any of them. As like so many students, like so many two-o’clock-in-the-mornings, I am looking at Facebook.
Something about senior year has sparked a desire to periodically put the brakes on my life and turn towards self-reflection: making bucket lists, wondering about old friends, and of course, looking at old pictures. So, in this nostalgia-driven, sleep-deprived craze, when Facebook points me towards a photo of where I was and what I looked like four years ago, I am perfectly poised for the trap.
Apparently, four years ago, I was at a rehearsal for the high school play. I’m onstage, a classmate lounges on the set next to me, and there is a big, bright spotlight lighting up my hair and face. My arms are outstretched and my brow is furrowed like I am asking a question. It is a candid and somewhat awkward reminder of the person I used to be. I rack my brains trying to remember what the confusion was about, but I do not recall. I stare at the photograph, wondering if something about my eyes or facial expression reveals just what it was that had me so bewildered. Did I ever learn the answer?
Hoping that there is something to be learned through contrast, I open my phone and snap a quick selfie. What a ridiculous thing to do at two o’clock in the morning, I think. But I do it nevertheless. I’m searching for something, something I possess here, tonight, with nearly a full Bachelor’s degree under my belt. Something I didn’t possess four years ago. I search my own face for something more sure, more confidant, for less doubt. I am looking for change, and not for just any kind of change, but a change for the better. I am looking for the kind of change that will assure me that I am finally prepared to leap into the world and start creating the space that I want to live in. But the photograph only reveals one thing.
I have new glasses.
Four years have gone by, and it seems like all that has changed are my glasses. I can even see the same crinkle of confusion in my brow that I had in that old Facebook photo of me at seventeen years old. I finally realize how fruitless this exercise is.
Of course these four years have not significantly changed my appearance, nor, it seems, my sense of wonder at the world. But these four years and this liberal arts education have shaped my mind. It has given me the tools of critical thinking and writing. It has opened me up to some truly life-changing works of art and has given me the platform to express myself in turn. In these four years, with every book I read, every lecture I attended, with every opportunity, goal, and struggle, I climbed a mountain and from that height, I got to watch the world shift around me. And the modern convenience of Facebook tells me it’s true.
September 8, 2013: A photo of me actually climbing a mountain.
October 22, 2013: I’m in costume for the show that made me fall in love with opera.
August 17, 2014: Me as a leader.
December 13, 2014: Me with friends.
May 24, 2015: Me in my first journey abroad.
June 26, 2015: A rainbow-colored filter covers my celebrating face.
April 5, 2016: Voting in my first presidential primary.
Here, now, at two o’clock in the morning, I can actually see what I have gained that will help change the world: my leadership, my friendships, my vote. These will change the world because they were made possible by my studies and by my discussions. Here is the change for the better. In this blur of photographs on my Facebook timeline, the slideshow of family, friends, events, places, even one or two silly faces, I have a physical record of all those things that brought me here. If I studied each version of my face in each photo, what would I see? I would see joy, humor, exhaustion, professionalism, and yes, even bewilderment. I cannot pretend to know the answer to every confusion, I can only take pride in knowing that my education has given me the knowledge, the work ethic, and the open-mindedness needed to adapt. And at the precipice of this new chapter in my life, what change for the better do I wish to embody in this world? I can embody nothing other than change itself. Change and growth.
Education is the mountain that I climbed that allowed me to watch the world, and Facebook is the lens that reminds me of the ways the world watches back. And as my first class of the semester starts in just hours, I know I can approach it confident in my own malleability. The change I can be is the one the world most needs right now: an acceptance of contradictions, a uniting of all those things that seem incompatible. I wish to embody the mindset of a learner and the heart of a dreamer.
This May, I will add a new Facebook photo, “Me with Diploma.” And just like so many other photographs that came before, it will be just one of the experiences that adds up to me as I prepare to be one of the many that add up to the world. I like to think I will tip the scales toward goodness.
The selfie on my phone still beams up at me in all its glory. Yes, there is doubt there, and perhaps a little bit of fear, but I know already that this is an old version of me. This is just “January 17, 2017: 2am selfie,” and tomorrow there will be even more change, even more growth. Especially since class starts in… can it really be only six hours!?
I finally shut down my computer with this new resolution: Embrace change, stay hopeful, and, for the love of God, get more sleep.