In freshman year, I sat in the first Binghamton University Slam Poetry Club meeting of my career and had no idea what slam poetry even was. When it came time to share, I listened to those around me with growing trepidation — how could I follow any of these seasoned-sounding poets with my four-stanza draft? I looked around the room at all the unfamiliar faces, and I paused my anxious, self-deprecating mantra. Well, no one here knows me, I thought, so why not just do it? So I did. And people were kind to me — they liked my poem. I decided in that moment that if there was one space where I was going to be bold and put myself out there, it was in that room where we met every Monday night.

But it wasn’t just in that room. Slowly, little by little, I decided to be bold elsewhere and I’ve benefited from it. In Pipe Dream, for example, I got to become advice columnist and then opinions editor for a semester. I reaped the benefits of being bold in my classes as well, where increased participation earned me close relationships with professors who I respect and admire. I also fulfilled some of my aspirations, where I got to do things like study abroad and (almost, if not for the coronavirus) present at conferences.

Deciding to be bold, to not let my anxieties and insecurities hold me back, has freed me. We all change throughout our college years, and it’s hard not to. I used to think that if you put the person I was in high school in front of the person I am today, she would hardly know me — that’s how different I feel. But now I think that she might be the only one who would recognize me. I am still the same person, I’m just freer, more myself than I ever had the courage to be before. I always had the potential to be this person, this bold, self-assured person. She was just buried under fear.

Boldness isn’t second nature — I don’t know if it will ever be. But I keep deciding to be vulnerable despite the possibility of rebuke. Even deciding to write this column is part of that, it’s pushing past fear and letting myself be real.

So here I am. I’ve come a long way. I’m proud of the person I am and I’m even prouder of the person I am becoming.

I am endlessly grateful to the people who have loved and supported me through all of my growing and changing. I am so fortunate to have so many people in my corner. First, of course, I have to thank my family, who I know will support me no matter where I go or what I decide I want to do, even when that means I’ll be far away from them.

Thank you to Pipe Dream for giving me the space to learn and grow. To Slam Poetry Club, for listening to what I have to say, always being generous with your kindness and allowing me to be bold. To Glenn G. Bartle Library study room 4520D and its occupants, for keeping me sane through thesis writing and the challenges of this past semester. To my London pals, for travel fiascos and Bulmers and sharing in one of the best experiences of my life. To my friends from the BU Scholars Program, the first friends I made here at BU, for staying up until 4 a.m., getting too many Nite Owl mozzarella sticks and reaching the “create level” with me.

And to my girls back home: Carissa, Jen, Mackenzie and Sarah, for being my biggest cheerleaders and always being there for me. I couldn’t do it without you and I’m so lucky that I get to love you forever.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me — none of us do. But I have faith in myself and my future, even though it’s scary. I’m deciding to be bold, to go for it, whatever “it” turns out to be. And why shouldn’t I?

Jessica Gutowitz is a senior majoring in English. She was opinions editor in fall 2018.