Go to college, get good grades, get a good job. That’s the advice told to university students everywhere. The part that comes along as a given, but is often taken for granted is: make long-lasting friendships with people who you would want to know and talk with for the rest of your life.
I got an education in electrical engineering and applied mathematics. I have had internships at multiple companies, and I have studied abroad. All of these components and more are why I know that I had a good college experience.
However, I don't think really I knew what my experience at North Carolina A&T State University truly meant to me until the summer of 2013 when one of my best friends, Chris Westmoreland, passed away.
I was in Iowa at the time doing a summer internship. One morning I was working in the lab on an optimization program and my phone started going crazy. Friends kept calling me and I got at least three text messages saying, "Are you ok?" I was so confused, but then I checked Facebook. Once I found out that Chris died, all I could focus on was the need to say goodbye. I flew from Iowa to Maryland and then drove 6 hours to North Carolina to be at the funeral because if I didn't go I knew it wouldn't have felt right. This was a friend who had always been there for me no matter what. One summer I needed to enroll in summer classes and I had nowhere to stay, so he told me to come stay at his family's house and he was not taking no for an answer. When I was upset he was always quick to say let’s watch a movie, and I'm an emotional girl so I can't even tell you how many movies he added to my memory bank. This friendship was one I expected to have for the rest of my life, but when cancer came and he had to leave school, suddenly watching movies wasn't the same anymore. Suddenly the thought of having our friendship only last until the end of his life became a reality.
After only four years of knowing each other he was gone, and at the funeral saying good bye was one of the hardest things I have done to date. When you go into college you never imagine someone you bond with not being there when you walk across the stage at graduation.
After the funeral I went back to my internship in Iowa and I felt alone. It is amazing how at the beginning of the summer I was focused, performing wind energy research, and hanging out with the other interns; but after I came back I had a really hard time pulling myself out of my sadness. Suddenly all I could focus on was keeping myself busy enough to not think about being sad. Then I moved to Texas for a semester-long internship, but I still felt alone. It was hard to connect with people, especially when I thought about only staying in Texas for a few months. I was surrounded by people but I often felt alone, and then I cut all of my hair off...I was having a moment.
When I came back to North Carolina A&T State University for my last semester of school, things started to get better. Although one of my friends was gone, there was still a community of people at my college who I could talk to. Being around people that cared about me for no apparent reason made me feel a lot better.
My university showed me what it means to have a home away from home. It's the fact that I have a collection of people that I can talk to. Professors in the engineering and math buildings, the honors office, my classmates and friends. Through classes, game nights, school organization events, honor society conferences, working on campus and doing research I have met people who I know I'll talk to for the rest of my life. Part of me just wishes that it didn't take losing a friend to realize this. While in college it was so easy to get wrapped up in project deadlines, looking for jobs, and preparing for the future that I would forget to calm down, relax, and take time to bond with the people around me. Working hard in school, getting good grades, and setting yourself up for your career are all necessary when studying at a university. These are things that are required to succeed in a person's academic and professional career. However, when you leave the university it is important to make sure that you have not spent so much time stressing about the future that you have forgotten to enjoy the moment.