September 7th, 2007 was the first time I slipped my feet into a pair of ballet shoes. Engulfed in a sea of other children, I aimed to stand out. Standing on my tiptoes, I tried to be taller than everyone. While everyone else was prancing gracefully across the gym floor, I ran clumsily, a whirl and blur of arms and legs that hadn’t quite caught up with each other yet. While others were taking their time and doing things slowly, I raced to be the first. The best.
I am not a dancer.
I am an achiever.
Numbers have always driven me. In elementary school, I wanted to run the farthest at recess, karaoke the fastest in gym, and get the most praise from the teacher. In middle school, I strived to write the longest essay, typing furiously past any word limit given to me. In high school, I stuffed my schedule with as many AP classes as my brain could muster, and I beat myself up for not being a year ahead in math.
Some may call this perfectionism, others might call it drive. I never had a name for it.
Up until just a few days ago, I swore I would never go to an “easy” college or university. I insisted that I would apply to the hardest schools and go to whichever one I got into. To do otherwise would be a waste of all of my hard work, right? The University of Michigan called to me not because of its programs or campus, but because of its name. In my mind, the only worthy “next step” in my education was one that continued my trend of overworking myself by doing things that I didn’t even enjoy.
Then, there was Marquette. In a seemingly random coincidence of fate, I found myself visiting Northern Michigan University. Ingrained into my brain was the idea that it was “too easy” for me. This mindset, however, was challenged the moment our car passed through the city limits. What I discovered there was a place full of interesting people who were interested in more than just grades or GPAs or AP classes.
A city full of friendly, kind, and interesting people who couldn’t care less what your GPA was in high school or how many NHS volunteer hours you logged. These people were interested in things like nature and the northern lights. They asked you how you were doing and actually seemed to listen when you answered.
What I met in the U.P. was groups of people who changed the way I saw things. I saw things that I now realize I probably should have been able to see a long time ago.
All of my hard work is not a waste. The skills that I learned from striving for straight A’s could lead me to scholarships at “easy” colleges just like they could earn me a spot at a “hard” college. My hard work is not a waste because I learned how to learn. My hours upon hours of stress- induced migraines and sleepless nights are not for nothing.
Being able to achieve so much, and still choose what is right for you, is worth more than a thousand A’s, stars, awards, and GPA boosts. Being able to think for yourself, and stray from the straight line that life so often settles into is so much more valuable than any acceptance letter, no matter how prestigious it may be.