This lovely surprise was waiting on the cabin porch when I got home from Rapid today. I had just started wondering if it would ever come, if I would ever manage to be an official college graduate, and it finally arrived! A second surprise was waiting–Instead of cum laude written on the diploma, magna cum laude was inscribed there, an exciting flourish with which to end my undergraduate career.
It is good to actually be finished. College is hard for everyone, or for everyone who takes college seriously. For different reasons, too, no doubt. Mine was difficult because my transfer to EIU came at a particularly challenging time in my life, shortly after which my family decided to move to South Dakota. To be confronted with that answer to prayer and fulfillment of dreams but still to have a minimum of two years left in school made it difficult to focus or to put my creative energies where they needed to be. Not to mention, such a radical change of life direction also changed my feelings towards having a college degree, or this particular college degree. I began to peel back layer upon layer of priority and started to realize that, in spite of my love of music and the performing arts, there was a deeper hunger and desire that had been necessarily quieted because of where I was in life. Little notes I found in old journals and schoolwork, like “When I grow up, I want to have horses and live in South Dakota,” started to resonate with so much more meaning. That was 9-year-old Laura talking, and the part of me that had dreamt that as a little girl began to wake up again. Imagine what a challenge it was, then, to be so close to something so dear, but two years away! Or perhaps you can imagine it, and you wonder what the big deal is. Fair enough.
But then the college work itself–After failing a recital preview, struggling with vocal technique, and failing a skills test over a single mistake, I began to wonder if it was possible for me to even finish, or if I’d have to change my degree. After successfully finishing my junior recital, I felt better about graduating, but then right in the middle of a fantastic last semester and one month before my senior recital preview, I found out I needed surgery. In some ways, I recovered quickly, but my stamina was completely sapped. All the comfort I’d felt with my literature was suddenly gone, and I struggled just to get through a phrase of music.
We were supposed to move out here to the Black Hills in December, but my recital wasn’t finished–There were some annoying acrobatics to accomplish related to scheduling the recital, but it was eventually scheduled–Just as it was looking impossible, my review was passed. Recital was given. Degree complete. God is good.
God is faithful. That is one of the biggest things I’ve learned through my whole college experience. He allowed me to go to college, to earn my degree, and to finish up without a cent of debt. What a blessing! I can’t even begin to describe how free I feel, or how grateful I am to God for helping me to do that. Even being directed into music, even some of the dissatisfaction I felt while working towards my bachelors degree, I can see now how God used those things to prepare me for this major transition in life, moving to South Dakota. If I had been completely in love with my music at EIU, the same way I was at Parkland College, I would have been tragically torn over this move to South Dakota. In fact, I might never have made it at all. My intent was graduate school, but that changed pretty quickly when we decided to move. If I had found all the creative fulfillment I craved pursuing my music, my love of writing might not have been rekindled. My love of textile work might not have been rekindled. And my dreaming self might have been content to simply ride one wave after another of creative satisfaction in music. But I think God obviously had/has other plans. Music will be a part of those plans, somehow, somewhere, sometime, but it won’t be the pursuit I imagined it would be, five years ago.
God allowed me to work alongside some fascinating and wonderful musicians. Working alongside them, both the professors and the students, I realized that I didn’t have the drive or determination or do-or-die mentality they had in relation to music. Music is a brutal field. You need all of those things to survive in it. You must have a conviction that that is where you belong to survive in it. Or you must have a love for music that can’t be tarnished by judgement, criticism, exhaustion, or fear. I lacked a number of those things, at least in relation to my music. I find that they are present in other areas of my life and interactions, but often lacking in my musical life. I realized that my colleagues got excited about music in ways that often didn’t move me. Taking some non-music classes, I realized I was fascinated in other ways and by other things: research, history, and…pirates, to name a few.
Yet, many of those fears, fears of judgement or criticism, fear of failure, many of those things confronted me head-on at EIU, and I think I grew a lot in those areas. Some of it was simply by letting go of my identity as a “musician.” This is something I’m still working on, but my ultimate identity should always be “Child of God,” not “musician” or “seamstress” or whatever other title I can give myself. As human beings, I think each of us has a desire to be known for our accomplishments, to be something, to have significance, to be known, or known as something in particular. That something in particular will be what is most central to our life, and that thing most central to our life should always be our faith. Sadly, it isn’t always. Our love of God is overshadowed by worldly pursuits, by the cares of the world, by busyness and exhaustion and stress. But when we do let something else become our identity, we need to ask God for forgiveness and acknowledge and affirm that he is our King, our Head, and our Identity. Anything less is idolatry.
Anyway, I’m an official college graduate, and I just praise God that he brought me through to where I am now! Thanks to so many people at EIU who supported me, from Jerry Daniels, my voice teacher, to Jerri Hinton, a dear friend in the music department, to people outside of the department who blessed me in so many ways: April Lee, who mentored me, Dan Hagen, who taught me to love journalism, and Charles Foy, who fascinated me with pirates. Thanks to all my classmates and friends who inspired me and gave color to my college career. And of course, much, much love to my family, who was always there for me, putting up with my emotional swings, frustrations, and exuberances, and to whom I could always come home at the end of the day.