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OPINION: Class of 2019, We did it!

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The grand finale after the 153rd Annual UA Commencement on Friday, May 12.

Congratulations, graduates of the Class of 2019. Your hard work, dedication and ability to wake up for that 8 a.m. gen-ed class two years ago have finally paid off. For some of you, it was a four-year journey. For others, including myself, it has been considerably longer. My story is one of those long, drawn out ones. During this graduation week, I turned 32. When I graduate May 9 with my degree in journalism, it will be almost 10 years to the day since I was supposed to graduate.

I’ve been lucky enough to be granted two great gifts, the sort that philosophers and scientists have sought through equation and alchemy: I traveled back in time and found the fountain of youth. Both claims obviously require explanation, so here’s how I came to be in possession of a time machine.

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I graduated from Hamilton High School (go Huskies!) in 2005 as an aimless, angry young man full of my own delusions of grandeur but possessing a GPA and class standings suggesting they were just delusions. Since the University of Arizona is my family’s alma mater, I applied and was accepted for the fall 2005 term. I started the semester rough. I finished it even rougher: my GPA was an “Animal House”-esque 0.00.

Embarrassed, I hid the info from my parents, hoping against hope they wouldn’t find out. They didn’t. I kept quiet during winter break and came back stronger the next semester, ending that spring with two “As,” a “B” and a “C.” My GPA jumped to 1.something. At that point, I figured the upward climb to better my GPA and escape academic probation was too much, so I applied for the Disney College Program and was assigned the roll of lifeguard at three of the resort’s hotels.

It was the time of my life. Women from around the world, a cush job and being located in America’s largest tourist trap was the best, and worst, time of my young life to that point. After eight months, I figured it was probably time to get back to school and get my career, whatever it would be, going. “I’m ready,” I told myself.

From there, it was just seven years of starting and stopping. I would enroll at Mesa Community College for a semester while teaching swim lessons but would eventually drop my classes due to conflicting schedules or being too tired — and just not wanting it enough.

Eventually, after drifting from swim school to swim school in the Phoenix area and bartending at weddings, I decided I needed a change of scenery. I started looking for jobs in Tucson and Flagstaff. There was an opening for an instructor and assistant manager at a Tucson-area swim school called Saguaro Aquatics. I interviewed with the owner and was offered the job on the spot and then moved to Tucson two weeks later on Easter Sunday, 2014.

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My inability to hold my tongue regarding the owner’s management abilities and the revelation I was teaching private swim lessons on my own time convinced the school’s owner I would be better off not on payroll. Thinking I could make enough money to last the rest of the year, I spent that summer of 2015 teaching swim lessons all over Pima County, from Green Valley to Marana. While the money was good, it wasn’t enough to make rent for a whole winter off-season.

Then, in late July, my father visited me for a weekend. During every visit, he encouraged me to enroll at Pima Community College. “You’re still young,” he said. On this trip, however, he added a caveat: “But you’re not going to be much longer.”

Something finally snapped in me. I realized that, to avoid a lifetime of making Piña Coladas or helping kids float on their back, I would need at least an associate’s degree. So I applied for FAFSA eligibility and enrolled at Pima Community College for fall 2015. That’s where I found the time machine. Since my time at Pima, I’ve been around 18-to-22-year-olds almost exclusively. The benefits of going back to school with a younger generation have helped open my mind and better my understanding of the world.

After graduating with my associates and working at Pima’s school newspaper, the Aztec Press, I came back to the UA in fall 2017. It’s here I found the fountain of youth. Currently, it’s located next to Bagel Talk on the first floor of Park Student Union, but it’s moving to the third floor of the University Services Building next semester. Of course, I’m talking about the Daily Wildcat newsroom. It’s been my fountain of youth, my bedroom, my sanctum and — most important of all — the place I made my best friends. 

In the years between 2005 and my return to back to school, I would often have the same recurring dream. I would start out driving a car by myself, just cruising down a street. Somehow, I would always end up in the back seat, trying in vain to steer the car while avoiding oncoming traffic. Always, I would wake up in a cold sweat, wondering what the dream meant. My biggest clue came about a year into my time at Pima. I realized one morning that I hadn’t had the dream in months. My subconscious was telling me to stop driving my life from the backseat. Being a passenger was fun, but it would condemn me to a life of unfulfilled dreams.

I guess my message with writing this is to let you know to never give up. Often, the largest obstacle to my success was not some exterior force but myself and my own inactions. Most people won’t be lucky enough to find a time machine or fountain of youth, but we all have dreams and aspirations. And here at the UA, if you keep driving, you have the chance of finding your future. Best of luck, God bless and Bear Down, damn it!


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