When I first came to New York, I was just a southern girl who desperately needed a clean slate and a change of pace. As bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I was first moving into my freshman dorm, it wasn’t long after starting college at Binghamton University that things really started going sideways for me. Severely underestimating just how shy I really was, I was soon being molded and manipulated by headstrong individuals who didn’t have my best interests at heart.

One toxic and inarguably abusive friendship I found myself in lasted longer than I’d care to admit, but over the years I’ve learned that the bad only helps the good shine brighter. It wasn’t until my second year of college that I was given enough freedom to pursue my own interests like art and journalism — cue the sunshine and angels vocalizing — so you can bet your sweet behind that I beelined it straight to the Pipe Dream office.

My time with the newspaper has opened me to a whole new world of possibilities. I’ve always looked at Pipe Dream as a job that I loved, but for a while it was also my sanctuary. I don’t know if I would’ve made it through my college career if it weren’t for the many, many hours I spent in the basement office, away from the daily struggles in my personal life. The support I’ve received from my friends here has put my mind at ease, knowing that I am so much more than every cruel insult said to manipulate me, to make me think I didn’t deserve better. For that, I will be forever grateful.

I properly earned the nickname “Texan Section Hopper” for bouncing back and forth between being a copy editor and a news contributor, joining staff for both sections and making lifelong friends across the board. After meeting like-minded writers, I realized that I could feasibly graduate with more than one bachelor’s degree and that I could actually pursue journalism outside of college. The successes I found in Pipe Dream pushed me to apply for the internship that led to my current job at WICZ FOX 40 News, giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to stay in New York after graduation.

Graduating is surreal. I’ve never been one for goodbyes, but I welcome the end of this phase of my life. College has been one heartbreak after another, filled with challenges and lessons learned. I came here as a shy teenager, and after all I’ve gone through I’ve found that I really do try my best to see the good in everything. Having the opportunity to meet new people for interviews and making connections is one of my favorite things about being a journalist. This experience has allowed me to evolve from the girl who stuttered when introducing herself, to the girl who now only stutters when conducting interviews live for the 6 p.m. broadcast.

It’s important to me to look back on the past four years and acknowledge both the good and the bad, finding peace knowing I’m content with where I’ve ended up and who I am today. I am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned, because regardless of how cynical the real world may be, I know that I’ve made it through some pretty awful experiences and I can handle anything thrown my way. I wouldn’t change the past. I spent years trying to adjust and change in order to fit an impossible mold of expectations, lest I be yelled at for not being good enough. Even now that I can gladly say my abusive situation is a thing of the past, I still have to push down that voice in the back of my head telling me I won’t be appreciated if I’m truly myself. That lack of faith fuels me every day to try my hardest and prove them wrong.

Transitioning from 18 years of being a student to starting my not-so-trial-run of adulthood is going to be sitcom-worthy, I’m sure, but I’m excited to make mistakes and continue changing for the better. This is not “goodbye,” it’s only an “until next time.” Until the next time that I’m able to come home to Texas and see my friends and family who have supported me in every decision I’ve made since coming to New York. Until the next time I visit campus and tell the new staff how proud I am of them. Until the next time I completely fall apart and feel like I’ll never be the same again, only to be reminded that I’ve made it through 100 percent of my past struggles and will continue to do so.

So, thank you. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me over the years and cheered me on through every challenge, to Pipe Dream for giving me the chance to prove I can make something of myself and to my family and friends who have supported my childhood dream of becoming Lois Lane. But thank you most of all to those who have torn me down and made it clear they thought I wasn’t good enough — I have never fought so hard to prove someone wrong. So here’s to the end of one phase of my life. Until next time.

Valerie Puma is a senior double-majoring in English and political science and an assistant news editor. She was assistant copy desk chief in spring 2019.