Always a student, never a graduate.

I am officially a graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

I received a 100% on my final portfolio grade, at portfolio review I received a Merit Award for academic excellence for my portfolio and I graduated with my 4.0 GPA in tact. You may call me an overachiever, but achieving those goals feels incredible.

I am the first in my family to graduate. It took me a decade to do so.

Let me tell you a little story about why it took so long and why it is such a huge personal accomplishment to finally earn my degree.

I graduated high school and began college in 2004 at 17-years-old. I was always the youngest in my classes and I was often told I had a lot of potential and was ahead of the game. But as it inevitably does, life got in the way. I attended community college for two years. I was home schooled my whole life and so I started my college life with baby steps, first attending a dual enrollment program at a community college during my junior and senior year of high school, and then by taking only two or three classes per semester while also holding a job or two. I was focusing in general arts and taking English/Creative Writing classes, as well as a photography course or two, on the side for my own pleasure. In 2006, I applied for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – I was interested in Photography, but after seeing my drawings, they talked me into enrolling in the Graphic Design program. I was there for one quarter, and then life happened and I had to drop out due to financial reasons. It was a really hard move for me to make and the black cloud of failure followed me for years.

I spent the next few years working as a teacher and manager at a local art school that I had been working at since I was 16-years-old and attending lessons at since I was 8-years-old. I had the opportunity to build a life through that art school; I could have taken it over and been owner. But I always had that lingering feeling in the back of my mind and heart that told me I wanted to go back to school. I have always had a hunger for learning, I’m one of those girls, and I desperately wanted to be back in school and to earn my degree.

In 2010, I made the big decision to return to school. I worked my butt off to get my portfolio together and apply for a few choice schools. One of those schools was the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. I applied for their Illustration program, and I was accepted. In August of 2010, I moved to Baltimore on my own. I had never lived outside of Pittsburgh (although I’ve traveled all over the world) and I was choosing to leave my family and my long-term boyfriend back home. I was terrified and it was – at the time – the hardest thing I’d done. Although I loved MICA, I was miserable in Baltimore. I was so alone and so lost. I was the oldest in almost all of my classes, felt so awkward and out of place, and I absolutely hated doing a long-distance relationship. But I had fought for it, and I was determined to see it through. I was going to best that black cloud of failure and not let it in my life ever again. I was not going to leave another school, no matter how unhappy I was there.

And then in January of 2011, when I was home over Christmas break, my boyfriend and I were in a terrible car accident. That is an entire post of it’s own – maybe one day – but to make an incredibly long story short – we were hospitalized for awhile, we underwent multiple surgeries, we both had to have in-home nurses tending to us for months after the accident, the hospital bills went well over $100,00. Each. I had no choice but to drop out of MICA and move back home to Pittsburgh. I needed my family’s help – emotionally and physically – and I could not be away from my boyfriend after coming so close to losing him. On top of all the physical and emotional struggles I went through following the accident, I now had that black cloud of failure over my head again. It seemed I was not meant to graduate from college.

But in July of 2011, still recovering from the wounds I suffered in the accident, I was at a very low point in my depression. I was unemployed, I was out of school and I was scarred from the accident – mentally, emotionally and physically. But I had fought so hard the year before to return to school, I wasn’t about to just let that all go to waste. So one summer day, I took a walk down to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh on a whim and I spoke to admissions. Two weeks later, I started the Summer session there, pursuing my Bachelor’s in Graphic Design.

Two years and then some later, nearly a decade after first beginning my journey in college, I have finally graduated.

It wasn’t easy. I worked multiple jobs, I held an internship, I wracked up debt while also paying as much as I could out of pocket. I struggled with always being the oldest in my classes. I struggled with feeling inexperienced. I struggled with making friends. I wondered often if I was in the right place, doing what I was supposed to be doing. I have never had a lot of self-confidence and I battled with that many, many times throughout the past two years. But I was fortunate to have incredibly supportive instructors who – whether they know it or not – convinced me to stay in school and to follow it through. They believed in me and it gave me the courage, and maybe a little bit of confidence, to do it.

And here I am.

Finally a graduate.

It’s a special thing for anyone to graduate. But for me, it feels a little bit more of a personal achievement due to the incredibly emotional journey that it has been. It wasn’t just about getting a degree. It was about finally proving to myself that maybe, just maybe, I have something worth sharing. And that sometimes, we really can achieve our dreams.

And now I’m going to sleep for a week.

Farewell to the Symphony

Yesterday was my final day as an intern at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It was a bittersweet parting. With only two weeks left of school, I decided to take this time to just focus on strictly schoolwork – so I had my last day at my internship. It has been an incredible experience – I learned so much and truly loved the opportunity. I have come away with so much more knowledge, real life experience in the design world and some great projects for my portfolio – which I will post sometime in the future!

It was a bit of a dream come true to work there. If I hadn’t chosen art as my career, it would have been music. So being able to work in such a musically inspired atmosphere, where I could often hear the sounds of the symphony rehearsing drifting through the walls, was amazing. My only regret is that it couldn’t last longer.

So, here is a thank you to the PSO for giving me this opportunity and all the great things that I was able to be a part of!

ImageMy office on my last day there.

Post-graduation Dreams

I know I have been very absent in my postings, and I keep having excuses. But this is legitimate – because I graduate in just TWO STINKIN’ WEEKS.

I cannot wait. I’m nervous, but I’m also SO excited. I’m excited for graduation and excited for what comes after graduation. So I have compiled a photo list of things I plan to do once I am done with school.

1. Re-read all the Harry Potter books.

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  2. Watch all of the DVD’s/TV series/Netflix I want.

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3. Play my piano, who hardly even knows who I am anymore.

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4. Devote hours to building characters/houses on Sims 3 without guilt.

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5. And finally – read soooooooooo many books!!

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Of course, I will also be working on applying for jobs and finally completing some of those personal projects I had to put on hold in order to devote time to assignments instead. But it’s this list of compiled of the leisurely things that I had to almost completely give up while I’ve been school. So these are my guilty pleasures I will be indulging in once I no longer have the responsibility of homework!

Status: Silk Lamination

I am a mere four weeks away from graduation.

It has been so hectic this quarter that I have hardly had time to sit and think about what exactly that means to me. I’ve been more focused on what that means for my To Do list. Until I signed onto Primo Cards to check the status of my business cards order and saw the words, “Status: Silk Lamination”.

Then it all felt real. My business cards were being laminated, ready to send. By this point, they have been mailed and are set to arrive on Wednesday. My portfolio book is ordered and should be on my doorstep, and in my eagerly awaiting hands, on Monday. Up until this point I have been second guessing everything I’m doing, thinking that I am not doing it “right” or that there is some “better” way to do it.

Until I realized I could spend my whole life chasing that elusive “right” way.

Design is art, it is not math. There is no all essential answer.

There is no right, there is only what feels right. And so I decided to start trusting myself to know me, to know how to present my own brand, and to just go with it. Since I made that decision, I feel I have moved beyond the in progress status and into the silk lamination stage. There is still a lot to do but as long as I can stay focused (which is very hard to do in this beautiful 68 degree weather), I am in great shape.

Graduation is just around the corner. I have been in and out of college since I was 17-years-old. Two weeks after graduation, I will turn 27. It’s been nearly a decade since I started college (granted, I took a number of years off in the middle there) and there’s not a person who can say that I haven’t worked hard for it.

Now I just have to try not to cry at graduation.

And try not to sleep away the entire week and a half of vacation I have already pre-booked for after graduation.

Today is the first day…

… of the rest of my school life.

Also known as: the first day of my last semester.

It’s like Christmas. Except a pro-longed, 9 week wait until Christmas. But still.

It’s been a long time coming, this whole graduation thing. I’ll write a post about that in more length at another point. When I think about it, I’m extremely excited, but oh so nervous as well.

However, right now – after coming out of a summer “break” in which I worked 50+ hours each week… I am most excited to be done so that I can have free time to actually do things I enjoy: like read, do personal art and play video games.

I’ll be more concerned about the whole “finding a career” thing once I actually graduated, but what will get me through the next 9 weeks is that dream of the ever elusive Free Time.