This year feels different. I’m in a known place; I’m surrounded by familiar faces, but something still seems different. (In a good way, to be sure.) In spite of being used to campus, privy to the secret study spots, best dining options, and knowing precisely the last second I can leave for a class without being late, there is a sense of “newness” that has come with this semester.

A few weeks ago, I stepped into my junior year in a full-out sprint taking on a challenging academic course load and my fair share of leadership positions. I honestly can finally see myself as an intricate part of my community here at Emory. I feel that sense of ownership that comes with being a part of something that is greater than you, yet not the same without you.

My dream in coming to college was not to spend four years simply sitting in a classroom, behind a desk at the library, or even at the party of century. I dreamed that, in addition to these things, that I’d spend my time here making an impact, leaving an imprint. The most significant aspect of finding my niche here has been the focus and purpose that has come along with it. I am seeing that the strides I take are not exclusively for my personal gain, but for the benefit of those around me – especially those coming behind.

As a first generation student, I have (like I’m sure most of us have) felt an obligation to prove myself; to prove my worth or to prove “I can. I will.” But I’ve learned to ask myself an important question: “To whom?” My mother? My father? My sisters? My friends? Those who’ve helped me? Those who’ve doubted me? At some time or another, I have answered the question with each of these. However, a part of this growing process has been learning to prove myself to me. To see myself succeed simply because I want to. To celebrate my achievements because they are mine and not feel selfish in doing so. To disown, let go of the pressures of having to prove anything to anyone.