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When You Fight Chronic Illness to Make Graduation, but COVID-19 Happens

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Dear graduating class of 2020,

College graduation is the day I sometimes didn’t think I would it make to. For me, this day was supposed to signify something more than just getting an expensive piece of paper and moving my tassel from one side to the other. This day represents the fight I have fought over the last five years and coming out stronger because of it. This day is for all of the doctors, health care professionals and people who said I couldn’t do it. That I was “too sick, too weak, too dumb.” That going to school was a waste of time because I was never going to be able to work. That told me to just get used to the idea of staying home and being a person with a disability who will never get better. That, at the mere age of 20, my body was useless and I should just sit on the sidelines as life went by. This is for you. This is to prove you wrong. This is to show you that, when a person like me faces terrible adversity, you have two choices: to fight or not to fight. And I choose to fight every day.

To everyone who said I should get a degree where I can work from home, or I should have just finished school online. Or that health care wasn’t the right field for me because of my past: you are wrong too. I am days away from finding out where I am getting placed for my dietetic internship. I have an excellent GPA in my nutrition classes. I have more experience on my resume than most students. I am the most passionate and determined person in the room. I’ve had people tell me what a great dietitian I will make someday. To everyone who ever doubted me, this is for you. I thank you. Without your criticism and questioning of my being, I wouldn’t have fought as hard as I do.

To the few healthcare providers who told me to never give up on my dreams, this is for you too. To the faculty at Michigan State who have gotten me to where I am today, I am graduating because of your support and guidance. To the mentors I admire, thank you for continuing to inspire me. Thank you to my family for believing in me even when it got ugly. And to the friends I have made during my time here — insert ugly cries here — I thank you. I thank you for showing me what real friendship is. For checking on me and supporting me. I can’t wait to see where life takes all of you.

A month ago, I had just returned back from spring break with one of my best friends. I was eager for all the joy springtime had to bring. Then, the coronavirus (COVID 19) happened — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system. Our country changed overnight, sparking all sorts of thought and feelings in everyone. I did not know that the past Tuesday was the last time I would gather with the classmates I have been with the last few years. All of a sudden, all of the “lasts” were ripped away from us. No warning and no time to mourn. And here’s the thing: we’re allowed to be mad, sad, pissed, depressed and angry for as long as we please. This sucks. It sucks. There’s no sugar-coating it and no amount of “self-care” will fix it. I know people “have it worse,” but that doesn’t invalidate what we are feeling right now. And don’t try to convince me otherwise.

Since this all started, I have been sad. I am so sad that I will never sit in my senior-level nutrition class again. I would give a lot to sit in one more lecture, a walk around campus, have a dairy store ice cream cone or vent to my favorite instructor. The amount I have changed since I stepped foot on this campus five years ago, and the things I have battled to get this degree, is something that I cannot put into words. I found my best friends, my passion and my mentors here too. I experienced my first love and first heartbreak here. So much growth and so many memories that I know will always be with me, but it’s something that I didn’t expect to end so suddenly.

So, why am I writing all of this? What’s the point? I am speaking to the individuals who had it a little rougher in college than the average student. I know this loss is greater because it meant so much more than just a ceremony. It was the beginning of something new. I want you to know that this is a loss you may mourn in your heart for however long you need. But don’t stay there, because whatever battles you have fought didn’t get you this far to stop now. You still got your degree, you still accomplished something big and that deserves to be celebrated. You overcame obstacles and challenges when most people would have just quit. You have a unique set of skills that you have cultivated from these challenges.

So, please celebrate. No, it’s not ideal. No, it’s not what you dreamed of. It’s not what I want either, but if I’ve learned something in this life, it’s that nothing ever goes as planned. Take graduation photos, have a mock ceremony in your backyard, keep in touch with those classmates you hold near and dear and pop that bottle of champagne. Your accomplishments are something that no person or virus can take away from you. Cheers to that class of 2020!

A chronically ill senior.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

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Originally published: April 4, 2020
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